By Chris Derrett
Editor in Chief
In the last 17 minutes of No. 6 Baylor’s game against No. 14 Mississippi State Wednesday night, the Bears tried and tried again to take the lead.
Baylor finally pulled ahead on junior Pierre Jackson’s driving layup with 28 seconds left and blocked the Bulldogs’ final shot attempt for a 54-52 victory, improving Baylor’s record to 13-0 and tying a school record best start.
“Any time you’re part of history, it means a lot,” head coach Scott Drew said. “And I think for what the upperclassmen have done, with leading this team from day one, they’re a group that deserves this credit and deserves that honor.”
Jackson led all scorers with 14 points, and freshman Quincy Miller followed with 12 for the Bears.
The Bears hauled in a defensive rebound and called timeout with 46 seconds remaining to set up the winning bucket. Out of the timeout, Jackson used a screen from senior Quincy Acy to drive through a wide open lane and softly lay the ball in for a 54-52 lead.
Jalen Steele and Renardo Sidney, who fouled out with 1:35 left in the game and then committed a technical foul, both scored 10 for the Bulldogs.
Sidney’s foul, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said, proved the most difficult obstacle to overcome late in the game.
Mississippi State held a 52-50 lead when Sidney was called for a push trying to rebound a missed Baylor shot. It was his fifth foul, and his subsequent argument cost his team another two free throw attempts. Miller hit one of two technical free throws, and Acy made just the front end of a one-and-one to tie the game at 52.
Less than a minute later, the Bears executed their offense and snatched the victory.
“Quincy Acy set a great ball screen. It forced them to play the screen and not the person who had the ball,” Jackson said. “We had a couple good shooters in the game, so if [Mississippi State] stepped up, I had the kick out.”
On the floor during the play was Brady Heslip, who went 3 of 5 from behind the arc, tallied 11 points and now has double-digit point totals in each of his last six games.
“We know that when it comes down to it, we’re going to come through, and we’re confident we’re going to do that,” Heslip said.
On the final play of the game, Jackson took the task of covering Mississippi State’s Rodney Hood, who had a 10-inch height advantage over Jackson. When Hood tried to shoot over Jackson, Acy rotated over and swatted the shot away. Jackson then slapped the ball up the court to kill the final seconds on the clock.
Wednesday’s game featured two contrasting halves, with Baylor topping Mississippi State by one point in both periods. The difference was a combined 39 points from the teams in the final 20 minutes compared to the first half, after which Baylor led 34-33.
The Bears struggled to 6 of 28 shooting in the second half, while the Bulldogs didn’t fare much better at 8 of 23. With such smothering defenses, Miller was asked if Wednesday was a man’s game.
“It was. The big men were tough, physical,” Miller said. “It was a very tough game.”
Baylor forced three ties in the second half after Jalen Steele’s 3-pointer put the Bulldogs ahead 38-36 at 17:34. After the first two ties, though, the Bulldogs responded by silencing the Baylor fans in attendance.
Hood answered a Perry Jones III dunk with a runner in the paint to retake a 40-38 lead, and Dee Bost later nailed a jumper in the paint after another Jones III dunk momentarily tied the game at 48.
Jones’ dunks were two of only four field goals he netted in the game, as he finished 4 of 13 with eight points. Jones is now 11 of 34 in his last three games.
The first half of Wednesday’s game was a seesaw affair, with three ties and five lead changes. Heslip had 11 points at the halftime buzzer, while Jackson had 10.
The Bears now turn their attention to their conference opener against Texas A&M, which tips at 6 p.m. Monday at the Ferrell Center.