Bears fall to K-State in Big 12 tournament opener

Baylor's Al Freeman is pressured by Kansas State's Dean Wade (32) as he shoots during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, March 9, 2017. Kansas State won 70-64. Photo credit: Associated Press

By Ben Everett | Sports Writer

No. 3-seeded Baylor men’s basketball fell to No. 6-seeded Kansas State Thursday in Kansas City in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament.

The Bears (25-7) and Wildcats (20-12) battled back and forth for most of the game, but Kansas State pulled away in the second half to boost its tournament resume.

Entering the day, the Wildcats were listed in the “First Four Out” of the NCAA Tournament by ESPN expert Joe Lunardi. The win propelled the team to a spot in the “Last Four In.”

Kansas State sophomore guard Barry Brown, who scored 21 points including 4-for-4 from three-point territory, said his team knew what was at stake in terms of NCAA Tournament hopes.

“We knew what was on the line. We knew what people were saying,”Brown said to the Associated Press. “We just stuck together. We played for coach, played for one another.”

Baylor head coach Scott Drew said the strength of the teams in the Big 12 made it a tough game, no matter the numbers by each team’s name.

“We knew that anyone could win this because of the parity in the league. It didn’t matter where anybody was seeded,” Drew told the Associated Press. “They made plays. They earned it.”

The Bears jumped out with an early lead, making six of their first seven shots to lead 13-8. The Wildcats responded with strong defense to take the lead 16-13 midway through the first half while forcing Baylor to miss its next five shots.

To end the four minute scoring drought, Baylor junior center Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. drove in for a layup and junior guard Al Freeman knocked down a three-pointer as the Bears retook the lead 18-16.

A 3-pointer from sophomore guard Jake Lindsey gave the Bears a 25-23 lead as the half approached, but Kansas State senior guard Wesley Iwundu converted on a reverse layup to knot the game at 25 apiece going into the break.

The Bears began to fall behind in the second half, but eight straight points from junior guard Manu Lecomte, including two from beyond the arc, made it 51-46 with six minutes remaining.

Kansas State scored six straight to take its biggest lead of the game at 57-46 with four minutes left, but Baylor senior guard Ishmail Wainright drained a three to cut the lead back to eight.

Trailing in the final minutes, Baylor put on the pressure defensively and forced Kansas State sophomore guard Kamau Stokes into a turnover, resulting in a layup from junior forward Johnathan Motley to make it a five point game.

However, Stokes responded with an acrobatic layup on the other end to extend the Wildcats’ lead to 62-55.

A 3-pointer from Freeman cut the lead back down to four with a minute remaining, but Kansas State iced its lead with free throws to advance to the semifinals.

Freeman scored 13 points in the second half and led the Bears with 16 points in the game. Lindsey said Freeman’s play down the stretch kept the Bears in it, but they did not finish well.

“He was in the spots he needed to be in,” Lindsey told Baylorbears.com. “He made the right reads of how his man was playing him, and I was able to get him the ball and he did a good job finishing. We could have had a little more poise in the last minute […] been a little more aware of the situation.”

The Bears are currently projected as a 2-seed by Lundardi despite the loss. Drew said Baylor’s resume speaks for itself when it comes to NCAA Tournament seeding.

“That’s why we’ve been on the 2 line, 1 line, 3 line, whatever, because of our full body of work,” Drew told Baylorbears.com. “We’ll take the positive, go home, get rest, get healthy, practice a little bit, and hopefully we’ll play desperate and execute like Kansas State did come next week. Then, it’s been a great thing for us.”

The NCAA Selection Committee releases the brackets for the NCAA Tournament at 5 p.m. Sunday on ESPN.

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