By Shehan Jeyarajah
After a senior night upset of No. 16 Iowa State, Baylor basketball will look to close its season strong on the road against a Kansas State team that has dominated opponents at home at Fred Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan.
After starting conference play 2-8, the Bears have won six of seven to move to 8-9 in conference play and notch a 20-win season.
“We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs,” junior point guard Kenny Chery said. “Everybody got down on us when we were losing five straight but we kept our head up, stayed as a team.”
Senior power forward Cory Jefferson has stepped up for the Bears, averaging 13.3 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game on the season.
Senior guard Brady Heslip has added 11.6 points per game on 46.8 percent from three.
Since coming back from injury against Kansas State, Chery is averaging 15.8 points and six assists per game, including a 27-point explosion in Baylor’s last road game against Texas.
In Baylor’s 74-61 win over No. 16 Iowa State on senior night in Waco, Jefferson and Heslip combined for 39 points. Chery added 16 points and six assists.
After losing their second game of the season at home to Northern Colorado, the Wildcats have won 14 straight home games, including all nine Big 12 Conference home games.
Kansas State also has earned wins over four straight ranked Big 12 teams.
Freshman guard Marcus Foster leads a surprising Wildcat squad with 15.8 points per game and 3.1 assists per game in conference play.
Junior forward Thomas Gipson adds 11.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game in conference while shooting 53.5 percent from the field.
Kansas State has been outrebounded in conference, but have held opponents to 40.7 percent from the field over the same span.
The Wildcats also turn the ball over more than their opponents.
“Boy, I was worn out watching our last game with them on film,” head coach Scott Drew said. “Their physicality stands out. Each possession, they fight you for every position, make things difficult. I know they play with great energy and feed off of their crowd. They shoot it better at home like most teams do.”
Kansas State was thrashed 77-61 at the hands of a resurgent Oklahoma State team in Stillwater.
The Wildcats have been a much better home team this season compared to their road record. Foster finished with nine points on 16 shots in the loss.
Baylor won a double-overtime thriller 87-73 in the last matchup of these two teams on Feb. 15 at the Ferrell Center.
Jefferson led the way with 21 points and 11 rebounds in the win.
Chery put up the first triple-double by a Baylor player in Big 12 play with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. Heslip hit a three as time expired to send the game to overtime.
Kansas State junior forward Nino Williams posted a season high 20 points in the loss.
Foster struggled to 18 points on 6-for-18 shooting, but contributed with 10 assists.
Drew has repeatedly said that his team belongs in the NCAA Tournament, and he believes that Baylor will earn its place with a selection to the tournament.
“We’re enjoying a couple victories and we’re still going,” Chery said. “We’ve got a lot more to go. Our goal is to make March Madness.”
Over the past four postseasons, Baylor has reached two Elite Eights, made two National Invitational Tournaments and won an NIT championship. The Bears have the nation’s best postseason winning percentage over that stretch.
“I know this is a team that can make noise in the postseason,” Jefferson said. “We’ve just got to make it, and we’ll take it from there.”
Baylor will play the Wildcats at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Fred Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan. The game will be televised on the Big 12 Network.