By Daniel Hill
The Baylor Bears defeated the Arizona State Sun Devils on Friday night at the Ferrell Center 89-86 to advance to the third round of the NIT. Senior point guard Pierre Jackson put on a show for the home fans by scoring 26 points and racking up a career-high 16 assists in the victory.
“I honestly didn’t know he had 16 assists until now but I’d seen him the whole game and I just didn’t realize it,” junior forward Cory Jefferson said. “We’re used to it in practice, he’s always firing passes and we know where to be in the right spot so he’s helping us and we’re helping him.”
Jefferson got the Bears going early by scoring all of the Bears first six points to give the Bears an early 6-2 lead. Then freshman center Isaiah Austin and junior guard Brady Heslip combined for back-to-back 3-pointers extend the Bears’ lead to 12-4, forcing Arizona State to call timeout.
After an Austin tip-in, freshman forward Rico Gathers’ fast-break slam dunk, a free throw from senior guard A.J. Walton and another Heslip three, Baylor held a 20-11 lead over the Sun Devils.
Then the Sun Devils ignited from 3-point range as they hit four consecutive treys to quickly evaporate Baylor’s lead. The beaming 3-point barrage gave Arizona State a 23-20 lead.
Forward Jonathan Gilling hit his second three of the game to give Arizona State a 29-22 lead.
Pierre Jackson started the opening act of his Friday night show by scoring on a circus layup where he flipped the ball up while falling and converting the old school 3-point point play to spark Baylor’s crowd and the team energy.
“Our fans did a great job of coming in here and being loud,” Jackson said. “Me personally, I feed off the crowd a lot. When we got down a couple of times, they help us out. I feed off the crowd and I get extremely hyped. It just makes me play harder.”
Jackson scored two more buckets before the half to give the star point guard seven straight points for the Bears before the half, but Arizona State still took a 31-29 lead into the locker room at half time.
Baylor started the second half in almost an identical fashion to the first half, with five straight points from Jefferson to tie the game at 34 all.
After an ASU bucket from guard Chris Colvin, Heslip knocked down his third three of the night to give the Bears a 37-36 lead.
A technical foul was called on Walton that gave ASU two more points off of free throws. Baylor answered with a 6-0 run after buckets from Jefferson, freshman forward Taurean Prince and an alley-oop slam from Jefferson to give Baylor the momentum and a 44-38 lead.
The stars started to shine in the Ferrell Center for both teams as Arizona State star forward Carrick Felix started to put the Sun Devils squad on his back Jackson dueled back and forth. Carrick drilled three 3-pointers and Jackson answered with a three of his own to tie up the game at 49.
A technical foul was assessed to Arizona State, and Jackson hit four consecutive free throws to give Baylor a 53-49 lead.
The two teams traded buckets, and Baylor held a 59-58 lead when Heslip re-entered the game. Straight from the bench Heslip swished a three to give Baylor a four-point advantage, 62-58.
“At this time of the year, anybody is going to be tough to put away,” Heslip said. “Nobody wants it to be their last game and I know they’ve got some seniors and like coach said, it’s a fight and they didn’t want to see their season end and neither did we. It’s a 40 minute fight every game.”
Baylor went on an 8-0 run to take a convincing 72-63 lead. From there, Jackson hit 11 of 15 free throws to give Baylor an 89-86 win.
“It was draining, it felt like we went to three overtimes,” Jackson said. “They showed that they’ve got some fight in them. They didn’t want to see their season end early and they gave us a good game.”
Aside from Jackson, three other Bears scored in double figures. Jefferson had 21 points and six rebounds for the Bears. Austin had 13 points and six rebounds. Heslip had four treys and two free throws for 14 points.
Carrick led Arizona State with 23 points, and guard Jahii Carson posted 20 points.
The Bears next game will be held on Wednesday at the Ferrell Center. Baylor’s opponent will be the winner between Providence and Robert Morris.
“I don’t want our season to end, and we still have another chance to play in the Ferrell Center so that’s always good and we want to get to New York,” Jackson said. “That’s what we always break down our huddles with and say New York at the end. We want to win a championship.”