By Chris Derrett
At Reed Arena, it’s not how you start. It’s how you finish, and more importantly, if you finish.
Freshman Perry Jones III did his part to ensure a happy ending for the Bears with a career high 27 points in a matchup with No. 16 Texas A&M not decided until the final possession.
After the Aggies mounted a late charge to force overtime, junior Anthony Jones caught an airball and put it back to seize a 76-74 lead and ultimately the victory Saturday.
Jones’ shot left his hands just before the shot clock expired and left just 3.1 seconds for Texas A&M to get a shot. A.J. Walton snatched the ball away following the Aggie inbound, and the Bears escaped with their third win over Texas A&M in the teams’ last four meetings.
“We used to joke when he first got here that he was big shot Anthony Jones, big shot Ant. Some guys just have a knack for game-winners, or being in the right place at the right time,” Drew said.
Last season Jones caught an Ekpe Udoh airball at No. 6 Texas and put it back with 0.3 seconds left to force overtime in the Bears’ win.
It was Jones III, however, who took center stage Saturday. Earlier in the overtime Jones III drove to the rim and drew an and-1 free throw to go with his layup. The free throw gave Baylor its first overtime lead at 74-73, and the play was the second Baylor field goal in the 9:57 leading up to the shot.
“I’m better in the post than anywhere on the floor,” Jones III said. “I just utilized my abilities on the floor to get my teammates a win.”
Texas A&M had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Nathan Walkup, who sank a 3-pointer to force a 69-69 tie, could not connect as second-half time expired.
Jones III finished 6 of 16 from the field and a perfect 9 of 9 at the free throw line. By the midway point of the first half, the potential NBA draft pick netted eight points as his team extended the lead to 25-13 on a LaceDarius Dunn 3-pointer.
Dunn tallied 14 points, joining Jones III, Jones and Acy in double figures. Jones and Acy each scored 10.
The lead ballooned to 39-25 when freshman Stargell Love stole the ball and scored an easy layup, prompting Aggie head coach Mark Turgeon to call a timeout at 6:12.
“Our defense, it was atrocious until about the 10-minute mark of the game; then it was really good. But it was too late. Bottom line, the way you start the game gave them a ton of confidence,” Turgeon said.
Texas A&M refused to hand the game to the Bears before halftime, though. Out of the timeout, the Aggies forced six turnovers that supplemented a 15-2 run. The momentum especially shifted when Baylor botched its second straight inbounds play and Khris Middleton laid the ball in to pull his team within 41-38 under the one-minute mark.
Walton’s coast-to-coast layup just before the buzzer pushed the Bears’ advantage back to 43-40.
While the second half seemed to be a seesaw affair, Texas A&M never actually led. Middleton, an 82-percent free throw shooter, could have tied the game at 47 near the 17-minute mark but hit 1 of 2 from the line.
“It was frustrating,” Middleton said about the Aggies going 18 of 30 from the charity stripe.
From there the Bears mounted a 10-2 run capped by a Dunn 3-pointer, his only field goal of the half.
Dunn finished the first half 5 of 8 but struggled to 1 of 9 in the last 25 minutes. But unlike previous games in which Dunn’s performance seemed to heavily dictate the outcomes, Jones III provided the answer.
“Once my legs left and my shots were short, I just wanted to get the ball to the hot man,” Dunn said. “That was Perry … he put us on his back, and he carried us.”