Baylor Basketball: Bears comeback down eight to beat VCU in Atlantis

Despite trailing by eight at the half, Baylor basketball stormed to a victory with a solid second half performance.

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It wasn’t an easy task for the 20th ranked Baylor Bears. They had to crack the VCU Rams’ pressure defense and try to contain a thriving JeQuan Lewis (21 points), but Scott Drew’s team picked up their performance in the second half on their way to a victory.

Baylor (4-0) overcame an eight point deficit at halftime to knock off a feisty VCU team, 71-63, in their quarterfinal match-up in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. The Bears will now play the winner of tonight’s St. John’s-Michigan State game on Thursday, while the Rams will play the loser of the first nightcap match-up.

The Bears were led by forward Johnathan Motley, who scored 19 points on 5-of-11 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds in his first double double of the season. Manu Lecomte scored 11 of his 16 points in the final two minutes of the game and Al Freeman also recorded double figures with 15 points.

Baylor finished the game shooting 44 percent from the field overall and shot 33 total free throws (82 percent on those free-bees). But the biggest facet of the game that proved to be the difference was Baylor’s control of the paint.

The Bears out-rebounded a smaller VCU team by eight boards, scored 21 second chance points and out-scored the Rams in the paint by eight in the second half. Motley started drawing fouls, Freeman was getting easy looks around the rim and Terry Maston even provided six second half points.

They also adjusted to Will Wade’s defensive energy in the second 20 minutes. Baylor recorded 11 turnovers in the first frame — they played way too fast at times and the crowd was a factor — but limited themselves to only five giveaways in the second.

Overall though, this was a fantastic victory for Drew and company. Why? Lecomte was a non-factor for most of the night. He shot 3-of-12 from the field and 0-of-4 from three, and only had three total assists.

Breakout junior Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. only scored five points, grabbed three rebounds and blocked two shots. Coming into this game, the big man was averaging an outstanding 10.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.3 blocks per game, while consistently impacting and adjusting shots at the basket.

Against the Rams, Lual-Acuil was out-played by Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed, who scored 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Four of those field goals came over the out-stretched hands of Lual-Acuil, as the junior was relatively quiet for most of the evening in the paint.

So imagine if the Bears played a complete game against this VCU team.

And it’s not like the Rams are a slouch Atlantic 10 team. They have a legitimate shot to win the conference. They don’t run it to the same extent as Shaka Smart used to, but VCU continues to use the ‘Havoc’ defense to their advantage. They are quick and fast in the open floor (14 fast break points in this game), and Lewis and Hamdy-Mohamed have developed on the offensive end.

The Rams will be right in the mix for their conference’s regular season title with the Dayton Flyers and Rhode Island Rams. They may even have the upper edge on the Flyers now that Josh Cunningham is likely “done” for the season.

Baylor has a long way to go to be considered one of the best teams in the nation. However, the Big 12 is wide open (and I mean wide open) beyond Kansas. Maybe they will be the team that breaks through and finishes in second place.

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