Apparently, the NCAA Tournament doesn’t hold exclusive rights to March Madness where last-second buzzer-beaters are concerned. Baylor found that out the hard way on Sunday in the second round of the NIT.
The Bears lost to Mississippi State, 78-77, when Quinndary Weatherspoon’s last-second 3-pointer hit the front of the iron and then drained through the hoop. It was the capper on a game of wild momentum swings leading to the Bears (19-15) allowing a potential victory slip through their fingers.
If you had watched only the first half of the game on Sunday, you would have questioned why the game became so close. The Bulldogs (24-11) exploded with a 3-point barrage that no one expected. After all, MSU is one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the nation. But led by Xavian Stapleton (15 points, three 3-pointers) and Lamar Peters (9 points, three 3-pointers, 10 assists) the Bulldogs built a 24-15 lead after the first quarter and an 18-point lead at one point in the second quarter before the Bears cut it to 14 points at the half. While Baylor exhibited some energy at the end of the half, MSU was clearly in control.
That all changed in the third quarter. Baylor went on an 8-1 start to the third quarter as they tweaked their game plan to pound the ball inside to Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (17 points, 8 rebounds) and Terry Maston Jr., who came off the bench to score 26 points and grab 7 rebounds. He was Baylor’s dominant presence in the second half. Whenever the Bears needed a basket, they turned to him, and he usually delivered.
MSU pushed the lead back to 14 points with 4:36 left in the third quarter. But the Bears surged again, cut the lead to 3 points with 1:30 left and actually took the lead on Lual-Acuil’s put-back dunk, 58-57, as the third quarter expired.
Baylor stuck with pounding the ball inside and took a 5-point lead inside the first minute of the fourth quarter. MSU’s offense had suddenly gone cold from outside, and with 5:02 left the Bears were up nine points after Nuni Omot’s 3-pointer. The game had undergone a 29-point swing and Baylor appeared on its way to delivering a third-round home game to its fans.
But then MSU surged back, and it started innocuously enough. Backup forward Aric Holman played a key role late in the game, going to the basket for a layup and drawing a foul. He made the free throw to cut the Bears’ lead to six. On the ensuing possession Baylor turned it over and Holman scored another layup to cut it to a 4-point deficit. Following that Holman blocked a Baylor shot and Weatherspoon — in a bit of foreshadowing — drained a 3-pointer with two minutes left to cut Baylor’s lead to one point.
From there, things went back and forth until MSU’s Tyson Carter — who led all players with six 3-pointers and scored a Bulldog-high 19 points — drained his final 3-pointer to tie the game at 75-all with 30 seconds left.
So, Baylor had a chance to win it outright and took advantage. Manu Lecomte, who scored 15 points, handled the ball for most of the possession, eventually driving to the basket and scoring on a high-bank layup with about five seconds left. Mississippi State inbounded the ball and headed upcourt fast, eventually getting the ball to Weatherspoon, who handed the Bulldogs the victory and the Bears a heartbreaking defeat.
The seniors led the way for the Bears in this one, as their top four scorers in this game saw their college careers end with Weatherspoon’s basket.