By Shehan Jeyarajah
AUSTIN, Texas — For a half, it looked as though the Bears were in hibernation. Baylor finally woke up in the second half, but could not overcome its 25 percent shooting in the first half as Baylor fell to No. 24 Texas 74-69, in Austin.
“There’s a few reasons we’ve struggled to put halves together, something different every game,” senior power forward Cory Jefferson said. “They got a lot of easy buckets in transitions and threes, and we weren’t defending their shots. Obviously, there were a lot of things we could have done differently, but it’s just a tough loss right now.”
Jefferson started off the game with a post basket, but Baylor’s offense stalled from there. The Bears (18-10, 6-9) shot 1-for-7 to open the game, including three missed three-pointers.
Texas (21-7, 10-5) hit on its first three three-pointers to start, including two from sophomore guard Javan Felix as Texas built a quick 12-3 lead under five minutes into the game.
Junior point guard Kenny Chery responded with eight straight points, including two treys, to key a 10-3 run for Baylor to bring the Texas lead down to 15-13. From there, Baylor’s offense stalled. The Bears went eight minutes without a basket as Texas used a 18-3 run behind six points from freshman guard Isaiah Taylor and another three-pointer from Felix. Texas took a 42-27 lead into the locker room at half.
Chery led the way with 14 points in the first half for a struggling Baylor team, including both of Baylor’s three-pointers. Baylor shot 25 percent from the field in the first half, including 2-for-10 from beyond the arc. Outside of Chery, the Bears shot only 4-for-24 from the field.
“We just didn’t start out the way we were supposed to,” Jefferson said. “They got off to a quick start and hit a lot of threes.”
Felix hit all five of his three-pointers in the first half to lead Texas with 15 points.
Longhorns sophomore center Cameron Ridley added 13 points and six rebounds. Texas shot 51.6 percent from the field and 6-for-9 from the three-point line.
“I thought they were more physical than us in the first half,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “They got the 50-50 balls. We’d been scoring in the post the past few games, but we didn’t respond to their physicality. You’ve got to do that for 40 minutes.”
Baylor came out of the gates on fire in the second half. The Bears hit 6-of-8 over the first six minutes of the half, including two three-pointers from senior guard Brady Heslip and five points from Chery. The 18-7 run pulled the game within 49-45.
Texas shot 2-for-8 to start before Felix stopped the bleeding with a three of his own.
Ridley added a bucket of his own and Texas pushed their lead to eight.
Chery and junior forward Royce O’Neale responded with threes for Baylor to cut the Texas lead down to 61-59.
Junior forward Jonathan Holmes scored eight straight points for Texas to push the Texas lead out to 69-60, but Jefferson and sophomore center Isaiah Austin responded with buckets to cut the lead right back down to 70-69.
Taylor hit a layup to push Texas’s lead out to 72-69 with 43.8 seconds left and Ridley blocked Chery’s layup attempt and Taylor hit two free throws to give Baylor the 74-69 win.
Chery finished with a career-high 27 points on 8-for-17 shooting to go along with five three-pointers.
“My teammates found me,” Chery said. “I was just trying to be aggressive. We got down early, and I wanted to be aggressive to lead us back.”
Jefferson added 14 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. O’Neale added nine points, all in the second half. Austin shot 1-for-10 on the night and missed all three of his three-point attempts.
The Baylor bench combined to shoot 1-for-8 from the field.
Felix finished with 21 points in the win for Texas. Ridley added 20 points and 10 rebounds in 27 minutes. Holmes added 14 points and three blocks.
Baylor falls to 18-10 on the season and 6-9 in Big 12 conference play. The Bears currently sit right on the edge of the NCAA Tournament with only three Big 12 games remaining in the regular season before the conference tournament.
“It’s like you get penalized sometimes for having the best conference because of parity,” Drew said. Our strength of schedule is eighth in the nation. The Big 12 is as tough as it has ever been.”
Baylor will look to avenge its early season loss to the Texas Tech Red Raiders at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Ferrell Center in Waco.