By Daniel Hill
By Daniel Hill
NEW YORK CITY — The Baylor Bears defeated the BYU Cougars 76-70 Tuesday in the semifinal round of the NIT in Madison Square Garden. No. 2 seed Baylor and No. 3 seed BYU were in a closely contested game until Baylor’s senior superstar guard Pierre Jackson decided to go off for 15 second-half points to push the Bears into the NIT championship game.
The Bears started the game on the offensive end by going early and often to junior forward Cory Jefferson. Jefferson delivered for the Bears in the first half with 10 points, including a highlight one-handed jam and an array of post moves.
Baylor freshman center Isaiah Austin had to go to the bench early in the first half with foul trouble, but at one point, Austin scored seven of Baylor’s last nine points in the half, including faking a pass and then stepping back to drain a 3-pointer.
Due to Austin’s foul trouble, freshman forward Taurean Prince took the floor and gave the Bears the lead going into the locker room with a quick, athletic tip-in score to give the Bears a 35-33 lead.
In the second half, the Bears started out cold by shooting 4-16 from the field. The game was tied 52-52 before Jackson and Jefferson decided to take over the game.
Jefferson scored five unanswered points to give the Bears 57-52 lead, and then BYU answered with two free throws.
By this point in the game, Jackson had seen enough. Jackson dominated the latter part of the second half by scoring seven unanswered points off of two free throws, an elbow jumper and 3-pointer.
“It feels good, but we’ve got one more,” Jackson said. “If we win on Thursday then I’ll probably be shaking because I’m so excited. It’s a good win for us and we knew we were capable. We’ve just got to finish the deal.”
Jackson scored seven consecutive points for the Bears to break the game open late in the second half and to give Baylor a 10-point cushion over BYU, 64-54.
“Pierre, he’s like a time-bomb. You’re just waiting for him to go off,” head coach Scott Drew said. “He had a nice spurt there, and that gave us a cushion to, as long as we don’t miss our free throws or screw things up too much, survive a bad turnover or something like that. BYU, you’ve got to really credit them because they really compete hard. They never give up. It’s a team that’s used to winning. We’ve got a lot of respect for them and knew it was going to be a hard-fought game.
Down the stretch, Jackson scored five of the Bears’ final seven points to help lead the Bears to the 76-70 victory over BYU.
Jackson led the Big 12 in scoring and assists this season, and he did much of the same tonight with a team-high 24 points and 10 assists for a double-double.
While Jackson was productive during the second half, it was Jefferson who was the steady consistent scorer for Baylor throughout the entire game. Jefferson was efficient in putting up 21 points with only three missed shots to go 8-11 from the field.
“I just don’t want to lose,” Jefferson said. “If we lose a game, then that’s the end of our season and it’s one of the main things that’s been motivating me.”
Austin recorded his 11th career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Senior guard A.J. Walton was also in double-digits with 10 points.
BYU was led in scoring by sophomore guard Tyler Haws, who racked up 25 points. BYU sophomore guard Matt Carlino made the game dramatic at the end by hitting some deep 3-pointers to keep BYU within reach of Baylor. Carlino scored 19 points by draining five 3-pointers, but it wasn’t enough for the Cougars in the losing effort.
The Bears will play Iowa on Thursday night for the NIT championship in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
“We’re excited to be here for two more days,” Drew said. “We’re excited that we have a chance to play in the championship game and we know whomever we play, it’s going to be a great contest, but I’m happy we get to work with these guys a few more days.”