By SCHUYLER DIXON, AP Sports Writer
WACO, Texas (AP) — Out of the Top 25 when the season started, new point guard Manu Lecomte and the Baylor Bears are on the verge of the first No. 1 ranking in school history.
Lecomte scored 17 points, Johnathan Motley had 13 and second-ranked Baylor came through for a raucous crowd hoping to celebrate a rise to the top of the poll, beating Oklahoma State 61-57 on Saturday night.
It was significant even for first-year Cowboys coach Brad Underwood, who has some roots in the Big 12 and remembers where the scandal-plagued Baylor program was when coach Scott Drew took over 13 years ago.
“They’re going to be No. 1 on Monday,” Underwood said. “Remember where they were when he got here. And they shouldn’t take that lightly. … Let’s not forget the job that when he took over, the remarkable job he’s done.”
The Bears (15-0, 3-0 Big 12), one of two unbeaten teams in the nation along with No. 5 Gonzaga, are poised to take over the top spot because No. 1 Villanova’s 20-game winning streak ended Wednesday — the same night Baylor beat Iowa State on a late jumper from Lecomte.
Gonzaga (15-0) had its game at Portland postponed by a winter storm Saturday night.
Phil Forte scored 17 points to lead the Cowboys (10-5), who started 0-3 in conference for the first time since 1995-96, the last year of the Big Eight before it merged with the Big 12.
New Baylor football coach Matt Rhule, who came from basketball-crazy Temple, was in the first row of the student section , which started a chant of “No. 1! No. 1!” that spread to the rest of Baylor’s first sellout crowd of the season in the final seconds.
“As I shared with the players, not many people get a chance to be ranked No. 1 and that’s a great honor,” Drew said. “It’s a great tribute. It’s not just ours, it’s the league, and the fans. Baylor Nation deserves it because they helped us get here.”
The Bears rose quickly in the rankings with three wins over ranked teams in a span of four games in November and December. No. 9 Louisville and No. 16 Xavier were both in the top 10 before losses to Baylor eight days apart.
Baylor is two wins shy of the best start in school history in 2011-12, when the Bears made the second of two Elite Eight appearances in the NCAA Tournament in a span of three seasons. But Drew’s program hasn’t been out of the first round of the NCAAs since 2014.
“It’s a great feeling to be ranked No. 1, but again, we’re still the underdog,” said Lecomte, who sat out last season after transferring from Miami. “That’s how we’re going to keep winning, because we’re going to play our game like it’s our last.”
Oklahoma State: It’s been a tough early conference schedule for Underwood, with an opening loss to No. 7 West Virginia. And it won’t get easier with Kansas looming. But he knew that. Underwood had a close-up view of the Big 12 while leading Stephen F. Austin to prominence in East Texas.
Baylor: The Bears didn’t have an easy time at home with a pair of unranked teams in Iowa State and Oklahoma State. But Drew knows it’s just about winning in the Big 12, and plenty of ranked opponents are coming soon.
Al Freeman, who hasn’t hit a field goal in two games, made a pair of free throws to put the Bears ahead for good at 50-48 with a little more than six minutes remaining. He was 4 of 4 from the line.
The Cowboys were within two in the final minute and had a chance to tie down three when leading scorer Jawun Evans, who was 2 of 12 from the field, missed a jumper and Lecomte got the rebound. Oklahoma State shot 35 percent.
The Bears had just seven offensive rebounds to 19 for the Cowboys, but one of them came from Jake Lindsey after a missed 3 by Motley with the Bears leading by four with 1:48 remaining. Two minutes earlier, Lindsey hit a 3 with Baylor leading by one.
BY THE NUMBERS
Motley had a game-high 10 rebounds with three assists and three blocks . … Jeffrey Carroll scored 14 for the Cowboys , but just three after halftime when Oklahoma State shot 32 percent.
Oklahoma State: Iowa State at home on Wednesday before a trip to No. 3 Kansas next Saturday.
Baylor: The long trip to West Virginia on Tuesday before a visit to Kansas State next Saturday.
More AP college basketball coverage: www.collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25
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