By Tyler Alley
I know it hurts now Baylor fans. The men’s basketball team created some attention and momentum with its play in the first two games of the tournament, and it seems like Missouri took it away in one fell swoop.
It may seem like the light reflecting off our Adidas electricity jerseys has been blacked out. It has not.
The men showed tremendous poise and determination in this tournament. Not just that, but they also reminded us how good this team can be when the engine is firing on all cylinders.
Baylor showed it can make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. That’s what we should take away from the victories over Kansas State and Kansas, and even the loss to Missouri.
Each fan will pick out their main highlight or takeaway from the past few days and probably will, or already has, posted it on Twitter. Here are my four, in hashtag fashion:
Sophomore forward Perry Jones III has heard plenty of criticism this season: that he’s “soft” and “underachieving.” For more, check out Baylor graduate Peter King’s story on ESPN.com about Jones.
Whether you think the criticism of Jones is valid or not, his critics and fans have been waiting for a big game from the star forward; waiting for Jones to take control of a game and carry the team to victory when needed. His biggest point total was a 28-point performance Dec. 17 against BYU.
Fans were also glad to see him on the court for the Big 12 tournament, as he was suspended for last year’s tournament; his teammates were happy to have him along this year as well.
“My teammates reminded me when I got on the plane,” Jones said. “They all gave me a round of applause for being able to show up here and being able to play in this tournament.”
Jones did not disappoint.
In the first half of the Kansas State game Thursday, Jones scored 21 points in 15 minutes, along with eight rebounds. He would finish the game with 31 points and 11 rebounds.
More than that, Jones had a swagger about him I had not seen from him; he roared triumphantly after big plays and looked to make the play himself whenever he touched the ball.
“I guess I was just in the zone today,” Jones said after the Kansas State game. “Just being aggressive and more assertive. Just looking for my teammates when I can find them.”
Jones also scored 18 points in the Kansas game, including a momentum-swinging breakaway dunk.
So do not fret Bears fans. Should Jones continue to play at this level, he could elevate the Bears far into the NCAA tournament.
The Kansas game Friday may have been Baylor men’s basketball’s biggest win of the season. Having lost twice to the Jayhawks in the regular season, the Bears still refused to back down against the Big 12 No. 1 seed.
Kansas rallied in the second half to take a 58-56 lead over Baylor with 10:20 left to play. Off a missed jumper by Jones, the ball bounced outside where sophomore Brady Heslip got the rebound and nailed a 3-pointer, retaking the lead for the Bears.
With 2:06 left to play and Baylor holding a slim three-point lead, Heslip drained another 3-pointer and then another on the next possession. These clutch shots not only placed the final nails in the coffin for the Jayhawks but gave the rest of the team a lift.
“A big lift,” junior guard Pierre Jackson said. “Whenever Brady puts a shot up, we all think it’s going in. So I’m glad he had the confidence to take it. I’m glad he hit both of those big 3s. We need them.”
One of the keys of March Madness is having a player who can hit shots when it matters the most. Jackson has hit some clutch ones this season, but it was great to see Heslip not only make the shots late but also celebrate with a swagger that fired the rest of the team up. I think Heslip will show up big for the Bears come this next weekend and (hopefully) the following weekends as well.
It’s tough to find a silver lining from a game in which five of seven Missouri players scored 15 or more points. Well, I have a takeaway from game 1 and another from game 2; might as well find one from game 3.
And I do have one: freshman guard Deuce Bello.
Jones led the Bears in points against Missouri with 16, followed by Heslip with 14. Any takers on the third highest point total? Yes, it was Bello, with a career-high 13 points. His highest before was 10, and that was against Prairie View A&M back in December.
“I think Deuce was tremendous today,” Drew said.
Not only did Deuce bring a new level of energy and athleticism to the BU offense, he also contributed defensively by guarding standout Tiger guard Phil Pressey, in my opinion, better than anyone else did for Baylor Saturday.
Aside from the dunk contest at Baylor’s Moonlight Madness, fans have not seen much of Bello; on the other hand, other teams haven’t either. If Bello can continue to contribute as he has, especially with Drew turning to a three guard lineup more and more, Baylor may have found its “X-factor” for the tournament.
If anyone believes the magnitude of the Bears’ performance in the Big 12 Championship tournament is overrated, let me give you some numbers: 121.5, 40.3 and 125.7. That’s how far in miles Manhattan, Kan., Lawrence, Kan., and Columbia, Mo., are from Kansas City, Mo., respectively.
Let’s be clear. All three of Baylor’s games this week were road games. Baylor beat Kansas State and Kansas and hung with Missouri in a hostile environment with little support (I am not hating on you, Bears fans. I know firsthand how far this tournament is from Waco).
So what can Bears fans take away from all of this?
Well I personally believe a team needs four things to do well in the NCAA Tournament: an MVP-type player who can put a team on his back when needed; a guy (or guys) who can hit clutch shots; a darkhorse player, or “X-factor,” who can contribute to his team either with scoring or fulfilling a specific role; and a team needs to be able to win in a neutral, or in rarer cases, hostile environment.
And what were my four big takeaways from watching these games live?
1. Perry Jones III can step up and be that guy for the Baylor Bears.
2. Along with Pierre Jackson, Brady Heslip showed he can hit important shots when the team needs them.
3. Deuce Bello is able to contribute to this team with scoring, defense and energy off the bench, and I’m guessing he is not on many teams radars.
4. Baylor showed toughness and poise in basically a road environment at a neutral site.
Like I said before, it hurts now Baylor fans. But if you were looking for a silver lining, I hope I gave you one. This team has a formula for success we can believe in.