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Baylor Survives Stillwater 72-69

Johnathan Motley dominated the game, and Baylor’s awful turnovers almost wasted his effort at the end

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Oklahoma State Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Despite Baylor’s control for much of the game, Oklahoma State never gave up.

Phil Forte drained a three in transition with just about 2 minutes remaining to bring the score to 70-64 as OSU’s defense became hectic in an attempt to catch the Bears. Baylor had four consecutive turnovers under the two minute mark, allowing the Cowboys to bring the gap to 1. Baylor seemed totally unprepared to handle the full court press. With 20 seconds remaining, Baylor had a huge defensive stand when Jo Lual-Acuil blocked a shot and Motley corralled the loose ball and eventually got the ball to Lecomte, whom OSU sent to the line. In the end, he would seal it with two free throws and the Cowboys failed to tie the game with the final possession.

Johnathan Motley was a monster inside. Oklahoma State, lacking much in the way of true and reliable size, had no answer for the Mot Man. He was either too big, too quick, or two skilled for any single defender. He was also too smart for double teams. Even when crowded by bodies in the paint, he found teammates, such as when he hit fellow frontman Terry Maston with a nifty pass around his own body to set up a clean reverse layup of the glass. With just over 13 minutes remaining in the game, Motley had 19 points on a mere 9 field goal attempts. That’s true efficiency despite being the centerpiece of the opponent’s defensive gameplan. He finished with 24 point and 11 rebounds, another stellar showing.

Any success Baylor had offensively involved the inside game, even if it was only a baseline screen springing loose Manu Lecomte in the corner for a catch-and-shoot trey. On one such play, Jawun Evans fell flat after planting his face in Motley’s chest. The official, standing right there, seemed unmoved by Evans’ tragic fate.

As has happened in recent games, the offense stalled out on too many possessions. Jake Lindsey seems to be Baylor’s only ball-handler nowadays who can get into the paint off the dribble and draw in a defense. Oklahoma State found the most success defending Baylor with a zone, which really is a travesty given that Baylor has two players capable of catching the ball in the post on the floor at all times. In the second half Baylor adjusted to the zone and to the Cowboys’ fronting of Motley with careful passes over the top.

Baylor’s most effective lineup by far this game featured Lecomte, Jake Lindsey, Ish Wainright, Maston, and Motley. The size, quickness, and smarts of that unit were best able to dissect the OkState defense without giving anything up on the other end, whether in man or zone. From the under-16 mark of the second half, that lineup went on a 19-9 run until the 9 minute mark. To their credit, OSU never quit in this game.

Forte, a true sharpshooter who began attending Oklahoma State approximately 2,000 years ago - that is, only one season later than Perry Ellis began at Kansas and only two seasons after Peter Pope graduated from Baylor - didn’t hit a three-point shot until the 11:00 mark of the second half. He finished the game with 11 points and only 4 of 9 from the floor. Baylor’s clear plan of defense was to silence Forte, and that scheme was effective for much of the game until he shook free at the very end of the game.

Whenever Oklahoma State found offensive success, it was cutting to the rim off the ball or driving into the paint when Baylor’s bigs failed to step up early enough. Transition was also an effective attack for the Cowboys. Evans, Forte, and Jeffrey Carroll all found their best looks before the Bears could set their defense. When OSU threatened to overtake the lead in the final seconds, it was through scoring off live ball turnovers from the Bears.

The flow of the game was good for most of the game. Neither team was particularly troubled by fouls, and both teams were aggressive attacking in transition, occasionally leading to some fast and fun back-and-forth play from both teams.

Lecomte was quizzically effective and inefficient in this one. Anecdotally, he seemed to be draining shots the whole game through. In actuality, he finished a mere 4-12 from the field. He was impactful, however, something Baylor has needed to an outsized degree as his fellow backcourt teammates have struggled with their shot.

The first half was a bit of back and forth. Baylor would go on a run, then the Cowboys. The Bears, then Oklahoma State. Motley was brilliant on the low post on both sides. He was patient to wait out the second defender, forcing him either to commit to doubling or to run back to his main assignment. Once the defender made a clear decision, Motley would make his move. If he was left alone with one guy, Motley did an excellent job of working into the paint and attacking over both shoulders.

A perplexing strategy the Bears implemented early while in zone was to run a wing defender at Forte whenever he touched the ball, even if the defender had to run more than 15 fee to meet him and Forte stood 25+ feet from the basket. Once, Motley literally leapt at Forte as though to block a shot, but the small shooter hadn’t even pump-faked. Instead he took a couple of dribbles forward and hit his teammate sitting in the now vacant short corner for an easy assist. Eventually Baylor switched to man defense, but the decision to give Forte such a huge impact by warping the defense so drastically - while understandable to a degree - was a bit of an overreaction.

King McClure, starting in place of Al Freeman (suspended for violation of team rules), began the game with good defense, but finished the first half and began the second half with several terrible turnovers. Baylor desperately needs him to improve on offense to make a push for the conference title and to make a deep Tournament run.

Noteworthy, the broadcast went out at around the 16 minute mark of the second half while the game was tied 34-34. Baylor went up 40-36 in the Dark Time before Vision returned just in time for Evans to bring it to 40-38.

Until the final two minutes, this was Baylor best offensive game in a while, mostly because Motley had no peer on the other team. He absolutely dominated every defender he saw. When Motley was off the floor, the Bears still struggled to find consistent scoring. Those last two minutes, though, were a microcosm of Baylor’s greatest weaknesses. Just like the entirety of the West Virginia game and the final minute of the Kansas game, Baylor’s guards totally freaked out against tough ball pressure. If Scott Drew can’t correct that, Motley’s brilliance could go to waste.

It was close to falling apart, but a win’s a win, and no road win comes easy in the Big XII.

Baylor welcomes TCU to the Ferrell Center this Saturday.