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John E. Hoover: Clutch play sends Baylor to Sweet Sixteen, fuels Big 12 pride

John E. Hoover: Clutch play sends Baylor to Sweet Sixteen, fuels Big 12 pride

Baylor’s Manu Lecomte (left) celebrates with teammate Johnathan Motley during the No. 3-seed Bears’ 82-78 victory over USC on Sunday night at the BOK Center in Tulsa. Baylor advances to the East Regional in New York City, giving the Big 12 Conference three teams (Kansas, West Virginia) in the Sweet Sixteen.

TULSA — Huggs and Self, and Baylor makes three.

Baylor’s 82-78 NCAA Tournament victory over USC on Sunday night in the East Regional at the BOK Center gives the Big 12 Conference three teams in the Sweet Sixteen.

Not bad, Big 12. Not bad at all.

On Saturday, Bob Huggins and the No. 4-seed West Virginia Mountaineers punched their ticket to San Jose by beating Notre Dame in Buffalo. Earlier Sunday, also at the BOK Center, top-seeded Kansas moved on to Kansas City with a thorough triumph over Michigan State.

No. 3-seed Baylor (27-7) — the highest seed left in the East Regional — needed some late-game heroics to advance to New York City, and against a USC team (26-10) that has thrived in comeback situations, it wasn’t easy.

Baylor point guard Manu Lecomte, a junior from Brussels, Belgium, via transfer from Miami, Fla., missed his first six shot attempts, then made 4-of-5 and scored all 12 of his points in the final 4:40, including a four-point play that turned a two-point deficit into a two-point lead.

Lecomte drove the lane, pulled up, made free throws and even came away with a crucial steal in the final four minutes.

“I just had to pick it up,” Lecomte said. “I was struggling a little bit in the first half. So I just had to pick it up. And my teammates and my coach did a great job just — they kept believing in me. They kept me in the game. They trusted me with the ball in my hands, so I just had to go out there and make plays.”

This is Scott Drew’s 14th season at Baylor, and it’s his fourth Sweet Sixteen appearances in the last eight years (2010, ’12 and ’14).

“It’s really about the players and how much they want to sacrifice for the team,” Drew said. “All year long, very simple: great leadership, great chemistry, great depth, and they deserve all the credit.”

Drew encouraged Baylor fans in Tulsa to cheer for KU, and after the Jayhawks pulled away from the Spartans, he posted congratulations to Kansas on his Twitter feed.

“That’s just Big 12 basketball,” Drew said. “It’s a grind. The last three years, we were the No. 1 conference. This year, second-ranked conference. … If it’s not conference time, we’re cheering for each other.

“We’d love to see everybody at the Final Four together. Then we won’t cheer for each other.”

USC didn’t fall way behind this time like it did against Providence (44-29) and SMU (38-30). In all, the Trojans had 15 comeback victories this season from 9 points or more. They trailed Baylor by 10 late in the first half, and as they tried to rally again late in the second half, it was Baylor that consistently made the winning plays.

After Lecomte’s four-point play and his steal with 4:28 left, USC never had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead as Baylor made 7-of-8 free throws in the final minutes.

“This wasn’t one of those games where we were way behind,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “This was a game that was there for the taking if we would have executed down the stretch.”

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Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.

Columns

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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