Little had gone right for No. 20 Baylor when it headed to the locker room in Friday’s Battle 4 Atlantis championship game, trailing at halftime for the third straight day — though this time by a big margin.
Maybe that made it easier for the Bears to shrug all that off and respond with a whopper of a comeback to claim the title.
King McClure scored all 15 of his points in the second half and Baylor rallied to beat No. 10 Louisville 66-63 after trailing by as many as 22 points late in the first half.
Baylor had trailed by eight at halftime in its Atlantis opener against VCU and by three to No. 24 Michigan State on Thursday before taking over each game in the second half. This time, the Bears trailed 39-24 at halftime, by 20 early in the second half and by 54-42 with 10:07 left.
“We’ve been a second-half team all tournament,” Bears coach Scott Drew said, “but that one I guess took it to extremes.”
After getting shut down early, the Bears (6-0) shot 65 percent after halftime, a total boosted by the fact they got some easy baskets in transition and scored nine points off turnovers.
They got strong play from their bench, something the Cardinals (5-1) just didn’t have. McClure, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, had scored three points in the first five games but went 5 of 8 from the field with two 3s and two free throws with 1.1 seconds left to make it a three-point game.
Then there was tournament MVP Johnathan Motley, who had 15 points despite drawing frequent double teams inside. He put the ball on the floor to drive by Anas Mahmoud for the go-ahead dunk with 2:49 left during the game-turning 21-5 run.
“A lot of teams when they get down like that they break apart, but we came together,” McClure said. “We came back and started chipping away. As we saw the lead go down, we started believing in ourselves”
Donovan Mitchell scored 17 points for Louisville. The Cardinals shot just 33 percent (9 of 27) in the second half, with coach Rick Pitino pointing to mental fatigue as a factor in the second half after the Cardinals “could not have played better basketball than we did in the first half.”
“I saw it in their legs,” Pitino said. “Anytime a team doesn’t get in the right defense, the right press, you know it’s mental and physical fatigue. You see it right away. But I didn’t make the substitutions. … It’s my fault. I saw they were fatigued. I was just hoping the timeouts could overcome it but it didn’t.”
Louisville: Pitino had a clear takeaway: he’ll have to use bench players more.
“It’s my fault that we lost this championship,” Pitino said. “It’s bitter. But that being said, we’ll learn from it, and I’ll learn from it as a coach to play these guys whether I think they’re good enough or not.”
Baylor: Drew’s team is 3-0 against ranked opponents. Hard to ask for much more in November.
“Makes my job harder making sure they stay focused,” Drew said. “I think the great thing is those are great quality wins. I know when we started his season we knew we played great teams early and had chances to get off to a great start. But we’ve got bigger goals.”
Expect Baylor to climb in next week’s AP Top 25 after beating No. 24 Michigan State and No. 10 Louisville on consecutive days, not to mention last week’s win against then-No. 4 Oregon. The Cardinals could slide a bit.
Baylor’s bench strength included Terry Maston scoring 10 of his 12 points after halftime, while Jake Lindsey had steal-and-layup conversions on consecutive plays during the 21-5 run that gave Baylor its first lead.
The Bears finished with a 36-18 advantage in bench points.
“It’s tough to admit that you’re tired,” Mitchell said, “but at the end of the day, we just didn’t make enough plays at the right time.”
Louisville: The Cardinals host Purdue on Wednesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Baylor: The Bears return home to face Sam Houston State on Wednesday night.
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