Malik Newman concedes he was as focused as he’s ever been on a basketball court during the closing moments of Kansas’ narrow 70-67 victory over Baylor on Saturday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
“You don’t realize it until it’s over,” Newman, KU’s 6-foot-3 sophomore combo guard from Jackson, Miss., said of inner emotion he had during a 4-minute stretch in which he scored 12 of the Jayhawks’ final 14 points — points necessary to erase a six-point deficit during the final 2:51.
“It’s the will to win, not trying to let your teammates down, the person to your right and to your left. I definitely was feeling it,” Newman added.
KU coach Bill Self credited Newman for lifting the first-place Jayhawks (16-3, 6-1) to their fifth straight Big 12 victory. Kansas survived a Baylor team (12-7, 2-5) that trailed by 13 points in the first half and 11 at halftime, only to rally late.
“Malik bailed us out,” Self said. “Malik stepped up huge. He was the best player in the game hands down. It’s the best game he’s had since he’s been here.”
Of Newman, who finished with 24 points and seven rebounds in 35 minutes, senior guard Devonté Graham said: “He scored 12 straight. He put us on his back tonight. He didn’t want us to lose, especially at home again. We’ve definitely got to give him the game ball.”
KU, which now holds a one-game lead over West Virginia and two-game advantage over Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Kansas State in the league race, looked like it was headed for a third defeat in Allen Fieldhouse this season with 2:51 left.
The Jayhawks were down 67-61 when Newman scored a bucket and hit a free throw, and followed that with a driving bucket to cut the gap to one at 67-66 with 1:31 left.
Newman scored again after a block, and KU led 68-67 at 1:05.
“I was trying to be aggressive and make plays to help us win,” Newman said simply. “Coach’s motto is ‘Players make plays.’ He says when the game gets close, coaches don’t win games. Players win games. I tried to take that to heart.”
Udoka Azubuike — who had 14 points and seven rebounds but missed 7 of 11 free throws — missed two from the line with 17.7 seconds to play, giving Baylor a chance to win.
Manu Lecomte, who scored 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting, hit the lane and had a possible game-winning layup altered by Azubuike with 4 ticks of the clock left. Graham (15 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists) rebounded, was fouled and hit two free throws to give KU a 70-67 lead.
Self said Lecomte, ‘beat Devonté on that play. The whole deal is you can’t let him drive in that slot (to the goal) with his right hand. He drove in that slot with his right hand. Basketball ... there’s so much luck involved. Doke did a great job contesting. He left his man, which opened up the offensive rebound. The ball came off the front (to Graham). If the ball comes off the weak side, they (Bears) may get a putback (at the buzzer). But Doke did a great job coming over and protecting the rim.”
Baylor still had 3.4 seconds to work with following the Graham free throws that put KU up by three. Baylor took the ball out at halfcourt with 2.9 left after a deflection on an inbounds pass from the end line. On a second inbound from halfcourt, Jake Lindsey threw to Tristan Clark and the ball bounded away as the clock ran out on the KU victory.
“Coach told us to keep the foot on the gas, that anybody is capable of going on a run,” Newman said. He indicated the Jayhawks did not heed the coach’s words in blowing an early 13-point lead and 38-27 halftime advantage. “Basketball is a game of runs. You have to weather the storm. They kept with their offense and were able to get back in the game.”
Baylor was led by Jo Lual-Acuil, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Nuni Omot, who scored 14 points in 23 minutes. KU hit 21 of 34 free throws, 40.4 percent of its shots and 7 of 18 threes. Baylor made 40 percent of its shots and 4 of 20 threes.
“They killed us on the glass again,” Self said. The Bears won the board battle 39-37. “That will keep happening until we get more competitive guys in there fighting. We weren’t competitive on the glass at all.”
He cited Lagerald Vick as lacking in that area. Vick had five points and five rebounds in 31 minutes.
“You’d think a junior would be able to get in there and make a play or force help. We were unable to do that,” Self said. “It was ugly. Hopefully we can correct some things moving forward.”
The game was contested several hours after BC Ikogea officials announced the signing of 6-10 Kansas freshman Billy Preston to a contract for the rest of this season. Preston had not played in a game for the Jayhawks this season as KU compliance and the NCAA looked into the financial picture surrounding a car he’s been driving this school year.
“It was tough (saying goodbye),” Newman said of Preston leaving the team. “I know he’ll do great over there, but that was a brother we lost.”
KU will travel to Oklahoma on Tuesday for a 6 p.m. tipoff.