By Chris Derrett
Following Baylor’s 84-67 loss to Oklahoma on Wednesday, coach Scott Drew was asked how difficult it was to motivate his players after the Bears received shocking news hours before the game.
“When you’ve just gone to a funeral, try to motivate somebody to run a marathon,” Drew said.
Six hours before Baylor’s first round Big 12 tournament game, it found out freshman Perry Jones was suspended by the NCAA for “a pre-enrollment amateurism violation/preferential treatment.”
Drew took little time expressing his opinion on the matter, using his postgame press conference opening comment to talk about Jones and his family.
“The easiest thing I can say to start out with is just, I hope no other institution, no other team, no other family or player ever has to go through what we did the last couple of hours,” Drew said.
An official statement released by Baylor 50 minutes before Wednesday’s tip off said Jones’ mother received loans from Jones’ AAU basketball coach while he was in high school, loans Ms. Jones repaid “in a timely manner.” Perry was never told of the loans. He also received travel funds from that coach to attend a preseason professional football game.
Baylor athletics director Ian McCaw said the university had been working with the NCAA since December about the issue, and the university was unaware of any violations prior to Jones’ enrollment.
Baylor has already appealed the suspension and hopes to have Jones back on the court before postseason play begins.
“We’d like to think every student athlete’s treated fairly and consistency, so we rely on case precedent,” McCaw said after the game. “We’ll formulate all these concepts within our appeal.”
Both McCaw and Drew questioned the timing of the suspension. Baylor president Ken Starr, also in attendance at the game, commented while being very selective with his word choice.
“We were deeply disappointed,” Starr said when asked about his initial reaction to Jones’ suspension. When asked to elaborate, he replied, “We were deeply disappointed.”
The Bears’ loss essentially guarantees they will not receive an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament and will instead compete in the National Invitational Tournament.
With Jones cheering from the sideline in a Baylor warmup suit, the Bears led as late as the 12 minute mark of the first half before Oklahoma pulled away.
A 3-pointer gave Baylor a 13-9 lead at 12:06, but three straight fastbreak baskets sparked a 20-3 run that pushed the game out of reach.
“[Oklahoma] did a great job blocking out, and they did a great job making shots,” Drew said.
Despite facing a four-guard starting lineup, Baylor conceded 20 points in the paint. When the Bears collapsed down low, the Sooners were on the perimeter hitting nine of 18 3-point attempts.
Oklahoma’s gashing inside also helped draw 33 free throw attempts, 29 of which it made.
The news of Jones’ suspension hit the players hard and proved devastating. Junior Quincy Acy, Jones’ frontcourt partner, made it a point to play with a chip on his shoulder.
“Perry is like a brother to me. We room every trip,” Acy said. “He’s my little brother, and it’s like somebody coming in your house and punching your little brother. You take it that personally. So that’s how I played it.”
Acy got the start, his first since Drew moved him to the ‘sixth man’ role four games into conference play. He tallied 21 points and hauled in 15 rebounds for his ninth career double-double and first since Dec. 23 against Washington State.
But more crucial to Baylor’s elimination from the tournament was what it didn’t have against the Sooners. Outside of the paint, Baylor struggled to knock down shots time and time again.
Senior LaceDarius Dunn battled tight defense the entire game and went 3 of 14, scoring 11 points. Shutting down Dunn seemed to render the Bears ineffective as a whole, Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said.
“Those other guys,” Capel said about Baylor players not named LaceDarius, “I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way; I just don’t think they’re great shooters. And fortunately for us we played the percentages.”
Sophomore A.J. Walton also shot below his season average of 40 percent, 3 of 10 totaling eight points. As a team, Baylor shot 41 percent.
The short-notice loss of Jones III on the floor affected Dunn just as it did the rest of the team.
“It doesn’t just affect him, his family,” Dunn said of Jones. “It affects the whole 13 guys on the bench, starting with the head coach going on down. Like I said, that doesn’t give us any reason to [not] go out there and lay it out on the line.”
Wednesday’s situation was as foreign and unexpected to Walton as any of his teammates.
Something like Wednesday had never happened to Walton, “Not even middle school, high school, AAU ball, none of that,” he said. “It was shocking, but we just didn’t come out and play like we needed to.”