By Chad Conine, The Sports Xchange
TULSA, Okla. — The Baylor Bears made it clear in the second half that they weren’t going home early this time.
The third-seeded Bears dominated the final 20 minutes against 14th-seeded New Mexico State in the East Regional matchup and claimed a 91-73 victory over the Aggies in the first game of the day Friday at the BOK Center.
After first-round exits against 14th-seeded Georgia State and 12th-seeded Yale the last two seasons, Baylor (26-7) responded to a two-point deficit at halftime versus New Mexico State by winning the second half, 53-33.
Guard Al Freeman led Baylor with 21 points, reserve forward Terry Maston added 19 and nine rebounds, forward Jo Lual-Acuil had 16 and forward Johnathan Motley finished with 15 points and a team-leading 10 rebounds.
“Al and (Maston) had monster games,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “That’s what the beauty of having depth is. They’re experienced players. They didn’t want to stop playing and they did a great job stepping up.”
Baylor advances to play USC in the second round on Sunday.
Guard Braxton Huggins and guard Ian Baker each scored 19 to lead New Mexico State and forward Eli Chuha added 11.
The Bears switched out of their usual 2-3 zone and went primarily to man-to-man defense to start the second half. It worked as Baylor held New Mexico State (28-6) to five points through the first six minutes after the break.
“We just made sure that we guarded the 3-point line a little bit better,” Motley said. “I think they went like four straight (from beyond the arc) at the end of the first half. So we just made sure we guarded that and made them try to shoot tough twos over our shot blockers.”
Baylor took control of the game at the beginning of the second half with a 16-5 run and went ahead by nine when Maston completed a three-point play with 14:16 left.
The Bears extended their lead to 20 points on a dunk by Lual-Acuil with 8:43 remaining. New Mexico State never got back within 11 points.
“Baylor just kind of came out and locked it up a little bit,” New Mexico State coach Paul Weir said. “You gotta give them credit. They did a really good job and, unfortunately, we just weren’t getting stops at the other end.”
Baylor and New Mexico State traded early punches as the Aggies grabbed an 11-3 lead and the Bears immediately responded with an 11-0 run.
Motley made a layup to cap Baylor’s surge that took away New Mexico State’s initial momentum.
But the Aggies stayed close and regained the lead at 26-24 when forward Johnathon Wilkins hit a 3-pointer with 4:18 left before halftime.
New Mexico State hit 6 of 14 3-point attempts in the first half and took a 40-38 lead to halftime when Huggins hit a trey with two seconds left before the break.
Freeman led Baylor’s 55-percent shooting effort in the first half as he nailed 5 of 7 shots from the field and all three of his shots beyond the arc. Freeman led Baylor with 13 points in the first 20 minutes and Maston added 12.
Motley scored just four points in the first half after he picked up his second foul with 9:38 to go before the break and sat until the second half.
New Mexico State shot 50 percent in the first half despite Baylor blocking six shots. Chuha led the Aggies with 10 points in the first half.