By Chad Conine, The Sports Xchange
WACO, Texas — After dropping two Big 12 games last week, Baylor was relieved to win, no matter how the Bears got it done.
As it turned out, No. 9 Baylor leaned on its shot-swatting zone defense and forward Johnathan Motley to fend off Oklahoma 60-54 on Tuesday night at the Ferrell Center.
Motley finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds, and forward Jo Lual-Acuil accumulated 11 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks as the Bears ducked a comeback bid by the Sooners in the second half.
Baylor didn’t make a field goal in the final six minutes. But the Bears knocked down 5 of 7 free throws and held the Sooners to seven points during the same stretch.
“As long as we play great defense like that, if we’re not scoring, they’re not scoring either,” Motley said. “We can work with that.”
Guard Kameron McGusty led Oklahoma with 13 points, but he was the only Sooners player to score in double digits.
Baylor (23-5, 10-5 Big 12) lost twice last week at Texas Tech and at home to Kansas, falling three games behind the Jayhawks for the Big 12 lead. But the Bears grabbed a big lead early and held on down the stretch on the strength of superb rebounding and defense.
Baylor outrebounded Oklahoma 43-34 and blocked 10 shots.
“We definitely wanted to pick up our defensive intensity,” Motley said. “We did a good job of meeting shots at the top of the rim and blocking them and making them take tough 2s. That was the game plan and we did a good job of making sure we did that.”
Oklahoma (9-18, 3-12) continued its struggles just a season removed from reaching the Final Four. The Sooners, who lost senior guard Jordan Woodard to a season-ending ACL injury earlier this month, couldn’t hit the shots they needed to make things more interesting in the closing minutes.
Oklahoma shot just 33 percent from the field.
However, Oklahoma chiseled into Baylor’s lead early in the second half with a 14-4 run.
Sooners guard Kristian Doolittle hit a jumper and McGusty nailed a trey on back-to-back trips down the floor, slicing Baylor’s lead to 47-43 with 12:57 remaining.
But before Oklahoma climbed all the way back to tie, guard Manu Lecomte, who finished with 11 points and six assists, hit two 3-pointers to help Baylor stretch its lead back to eight.
“That’s why they’re a good team,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “They’ve got that inside-outside balance and play off of it very well.”
Lecomte suffered an ankle injury in the second half of Baylor’s loss to Kansas on Saturday. Drew said he was limited in his ability to create his own shot against Oklahoma. But Lecomte still played 33 minutes and made shots that counted.
“We know Manu is a big shot-maker,” Motley said. “Whenever we need a big shot, we know Manu is going to take it. We have full confidence in him and he comes through.”
Baylor pushed ahead by double digits midway through the first half.
The Bears held the Sooners scoreless for 5:01, opening the window for an 11-0 run. Lecomte and Lual-Acuil each hit 3-pointers to cap the surge and give Baylor a 22-7 lead with 10:56 left before halftime.
After Lual-Acuil’s trey, Jordan Shepherd broke the Sooners’ scoring drought with a 3-pointer from the left wing.
Oklahoma aggressively took the ball to the basket and made 8 of 11 free throws to keep pace with Baylor for the rest of the half.
But the Bears outrebounded the Sooners 24-17 and shot 44 percent from the field and held Oklahoma to 29 percent before the break.
Motley had 13 points and nine rebounds in the first half, pacing Baylor to a 36-26 edge at halftime.
“(Motley is) a guy you’ve got to give extra attention to,” Kruger said. “We didn’t give enough of that in the first half. But he’s also a fine teammate if you give him too much. I thought the second half, our timing for when to go — it wasn’t like he was awful second half — we just did a little better job on him in the second half.”