By Chad Conine, The Sports Xchange
WACO, Texas — Baylor had to earn this win, but it appears the No. 2 Bears are now ready to move up one place in the rankings.
Baylor clawed its way past Oklahoma State for a 61-57 victory on Saturday night at the Ferrell Center.
With Butler defeating top-ranked Villanova on Wednesday and Baylor beating Iowa State and Oklahoma State this week, the Bears will likely ascend to the top of the national polls for the first time in school history next week.
As the final seconds ticked off in Baylor’s win over Oklahoma State, the sellout home crowd chanted “No. 1.”
Bears players and coaches embraced the celebration but kept it in perspective.
“It’s a great feeling,” Baylor guard Manu Lecomte said. “Not a lot of teams get to be No. 1 during the season. But, again, for us to win the Big 12 and go to the Final Four and win it all, it doesn’t matter. Next game is 0-0.”
Perhaps the Bears realize every Big 12 game is likely to be as challenging as their fight with the Cowboys.
Oklahoma State (10-5, 0-3 Big 12) led by one with 8:00 minutes left. But the Bears (15-0, 3-0) hit the key baskets they needed down the stretch.
Lecomte led Baylor with 17 points, forward Johnathan Motley added 13 and reserve forward Terry Maston had 11.
Guard Phil Forte scored 17 points to pace the Cowboys and guard Jeffery Carroll added 14.
Oklahoma State forward Cameron McGriff hit a 3-pointer to cut Baylor’s lead to one with 4:27 left. But guard Jake Lindsey answered with a trey on the Bears’ next trip down the floor.
Lindsey’s 3-pointer came after Lecomte missed a shot, but Maston pulled down an offensive rebound. Motley eventually kicked the ball out to Lindsey for the crucial shot.
“We’ve got to continue to fight to get the stop and the rebound,” Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood said. “There was a big play down there late where we fought and got the stop and a missed shot and we didn’t get the rebound.”
The Cowboys never got closer than two the rest of the way.
Lindsey’s 3-pointer that gave Baylor a four-point lead with 3:56 to play was its final field goal of the night. But Oklahoma State didn’t make a field goal in the final 3:07 either.
Baylor was 22 of 30 at the free throw line and Oklahoma State sank just 11 of 20.
Baylor coach Scott Drew acknowledged his excitement about the possibility of the No. 1 ranking. But he also pointed to long-term goals and a trip to West Virginia on Tuesday in the short term.
“It’s not just ours, it’s a ‘we,'” Drew said. “The fans, Baylor nation, they deserve it. They’re the ones that helped us get here. We’re glad we made them proud and gave them something to be excited about.
“Big picture, we know nobody is going to remember who is ranked No. 1 at the first of January.”
Oklahoma State finished with 19 offensive rebounds and scored 15 second-chance points. The Cowboys also outrebounded Baylor 35-30.
“On a night that you don’t shoot the basketball very well, you have to find a way to be in games to win them,” Underwood said. “I want that to be a staple of what Oklahoma State basketball is about.”
Oklahoma State grabbed a 30-25 lead at halftime despite shooting just 37 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes.
The Cowboys held the Bears scoreless for more than 3:30 midway through the first half and Oklahoma State took advantage of Baylor’s drought to build an 8-0 run.
Forte hit a 3-pointer during the surge and Carroll capped it with a breakaway dunk that put Oklahoma State ahead 24-19 with 5:14 left before halftime.
Lindsey got in the lane for a basket to break the Bears’ scoreless streak, but the Cowboys kept up the defensive intensity after that.
Although Baylor shot 40 percent from the field in the first half, the Bears scored just six points in the final 7:46 before halftime.
Carroll led Oklahoma State with 11 points in the first half and Forte added nine.
Forwards Ishmail Wainright, Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil each had five points to pace Baylor in the first 20 minutes.
The Bears couldn’t get their perimeter game going before halftime and they hit just 1 of 3 from beyond the arc at the break.