The Baylor Bears have put pollsters on notice – this team warrants national recognition and is prime for a tournament run in March.
The Bears claimed the 2016 Battle 4 Atlantis with a 66-63 win over the Louisville Cardinals at the Atlantis Resort’s Imperial Arena.
The Bears overcame a 20-point deficit to remain undefeated on the season at 6-0 and notch their third win over a ranked team this season.
They also defeated No.4 Oregon and No.24 Michigan State in the B4A semifinals Thursday afternoon.
Johnathan Motley was named the tournament’s MVP and finished with 15 points, six rebounds and two assists despite playing much of the game in foul trouble.
For the tournament, he averaged 20 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
“I’m thankful for my teammates for getting me in the right positions to score. I couldn’t do it by myself. It takes a team to win,” he said, “We played harder than them and we got the W.”
The Bears received a major lift from their bench with 15 points from King McClure, 12 from Terry Maston and eight from Jake Lindsey.
The Cardinals suffered their first lost of the season and became the first team to lose TWO Battle 4 Atlantis Championships after their loss to Duke in the 2012 finals.
Louisville got a combined 31 points from their backcourt, with Queintin Snyder’s 17 and Donovan Mittchell’s 14. Jaylen Johnson was the only other Cards player in double figures with 10.
After being outscored 39-24 in the first half, Baylor won the second half 42-24 to complete the comeback.
Louisville opened the game on a 13-4 run to take a double digit lead just over seven minutes into the game. The lead reached 20 when Ray Spalding made a short jumper in the post for a 25-5 advantage with 7:51 left in the half.
Baylor head coach Scott Drew said it was indicative of the way his team performed all tournament.
“We have been a second half team all tournament, but that one took it to the extreme,” Drew said, “We said we believe in our bench and they really came through and gave us a huge lift tonight. King got us going with that spurt and from there Motley took over down the stretch. We couldn’t score for 20 minutes then all of a sudden we were able to score 42 in the second half.”
They continued that momentum in the second half, leading by as much as 18 before Baylor went on 27-12 run over the next 10 minutes to work their way back into contention.
Trailing 56-53, it was the reserve backcourt of McClure and Lindsey who put the Bears ahead.
Lindsey found McClure on a layup to pull within one and on consecutive possessions, came up with a pair of steals at halfcourt and fastbreak layups to go ahead 56-59.
Mitchell’s three would tie the game for Louisville at 59 but Motley would put the Bears ahead for good on the next possession with his driving dunk over the outstretched hand of Anas Mahmoud.
“We have been to every premier tournament there is – I can tell you that the hospitality and the kindness is second to none. Every team that is here, that is why all of them want to get back here and get in again,” Drew said, “I have never heard anybody say anything negative about the tournament besides it is hard to get wins. I guess you can’t help us with that. We have to do that on our own.”
While Baylor heralded the play of their bench, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino cited his lack of confidence in his bench as the deciding factor in the championship loss.
Four Cardinals starters played approximately 30 minutes while Ray Spalding led the reserves with just 16 minutes.
“We could not have played better basketball than in the first half. That was a spectacular display. In the second half, seven straight times in a row we were in the wrong defence running down giving up easy baskets. That is a sign of fatigue from three days mentally and physically,” he said, “And this loss is all me not the players. I’ve got to take this loss and I have to get some confidence in our bench. The only way we could win is if we tried to pressure them because half court they would beat us. I lost this game because I am afraid to substitute. I can’t be. It is my fault we lost this championship. It is bitter but we will learn from it and I will learn from it as a coach to play these guys whether I think they are good enough or not.”
Both teams return to the court November 30 when Baylor host Sam Houston State while Louisville will face their second consecutive ranked opponent when they host the No.17 Purdue Boilermakers
Motley, Mitchell and Snider were each named to the All-Tournament team along with Miles Bridges of Michigan State and Markis McDuffie of Wichita State.