WACO, Texas — Baylor made its season debut in the Top 25, then had to make its free throws to avoid an upset.
Johnathan Motley’s tip-in with 6:09 left was the last basket for the No. 22 Bears on Monday, but the Bears made 11 of their 12 free throws the rest of the way to hold on for a 70-66 win over Southern.
“That’s a positive,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “That means you’re getting the ball to the rim and putting pressure on the defense and getting fouled.”
The Bears (10-1), a Sweet 16 team last season, are no stranger to being in the poll. They have been ranked eight consecutive seasons.
Baylor also has never lost to a SWAC team but had a hard time shaking the Jaguars (3-10), who scored the most points vs. the Bears this season.
“Even when we play what I think is good enough to win, we still don’t play good enough to win, because these are really good basketball teams,” Southern coach Roman Banks said. “I guess you have to evaluate on how they compete, and I thought they competed well.”
Rico Gathers had 16 points with 11 rebounds for Baylor. Kenny Chery had 11 points and seven assists.
Motley, a freshman, had 19 points. His two free throws with 42 seconds left in the first half put Baylor ahead to stay after Southern used a 12-0 run to take the lead, and he also made his only two free throws in that final stretch.
Adrian Rodgers had 26 points for the Jaguars. Trelun Banks scored 13 and Tre Lynch 11.
After Motley’s tip-in, the Bears led 59-51. Baylor managed to push ahead 66-55 with 3:32 left before Rodgers hit consecutive 3-pointers. That was during a span when he scored 15 consecutive points for Southern — the last on a jumper with 29 seconds left to get his team within 68-63.
In the first half, the Bears had a 30-19 lead when Gathers had a layup with 4:23 left. Banks then made back-to-back 3-pointers to spark Southern’s big run, and a layup by Lynch put the Jaguars up 31-30 with a minute left in the first half.
Southern plays at Hawaii on Dec. 29.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN 68, SOUTHERN 52: In Gainesville, Florida, Southern completed its two-game stint at the Gator Holiday Classic with a second loss in as many days.
Cortnei Purnell had 20 points to be the only double-digit scorer for Southern (2-8), which lost 78-49 to host Florida on Sunday. Abby Hix paced Georgia Southern (3-6) with 19 points.
Southern is idle until the new year, when it opens SWAC play at home Jan. 3 vs. Prairie View.