By Shehan Jeyarajah
For the last 8:05 of the Texas Tech game, Baylor basketball did not make a single field goal. The Bears missed five straight jumpers, all three-pointers, but somehow managed to hang on with a victory on Saturday at the Ferrell Center.
“If we went into the game and said we are going to shoot 30 percent and Isaiah, Cory, Kenny and Gary are going to be 2-for-, most people would have said we were going to be in trouble,” head coach Scott Drew said.
But a 40-24 Baylor rebounding advantage turned out to be the difference in the game as Baylor (19-10, 7-9) hung on to a 59-49 win over Texas Tech (13-16, 5-11) on Saturday afternoon in Waco.
Baylor struggled to shoot right out of the gates, but Texas Tech could not find a way to take advantage. The Bears shot only 34.5 percent in the first half and committed seven turnovers. They found themselves able to stay in the game thanks to their rebounding.
Texas Tech shot a respectable 42.9 percent from the field in the first half, but Baylor out-rebounded the Red Raiders 24-11 in the first half. Senior power forward Cory Jefferson, sophomore forward Rico Gathers and junior forward Royce O’Neale each grabbed five boards in the first half.
Texas Tech exploded offensively in the second half, while Baylor’s offense turned nonexistent. After trailing by as much as 16 in the second half, Tech went on an 18-5 to trim Baylor’s lead down to five points with only 2:21 remaining.
Over the final stretch, Baylor hit seven of eight free throws, while Tech missed four free throws and four of its five field goal attempts over the remainder of the game to propel Baylor to a 59-49 victory.
O’Neale led the Bears in scoring for the second time in three games, finishing with 16 points on 7-for-12 shooting and no turnovers. He also notched his first double-double of the season with 12 rebounds. Over the last six games, he is averaging 11.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists on 67.5 percent from the field and 53.3 from three, five of which have been Baylor wins.
“Royce is very talented,” Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith said. “I like his game. He is a good, solid player and doing such a good job. He is the one that made a difference.”
Senior guard Brady Heslip added 14 points on 4-for-11 shooting from three. Jefferson, sophomore center Isaiah Austin, junior point guard Kenny Chery and senior guard Gary Franklin combined to shoot 8.3 percent from the field. Austin finished with zero points.
Junior guard Robert Turner led the Red Raiders in scoring with 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting.
Freshman forward Aaron Ross and sophomore guard Todrick Gotcher each added 10 points and three assists.
Texas Tech shot 47.6 percent from the field in the loss, but only 18.2 percent from three and 7-for-17 from the free-throw line.
On the night, Baylor outrebounded the Red Raiders 40-24 behind O’Neale’s 12 rebounds. Only one Texas Tech player finished with more than four rebounds on the night.
“You have to compliment Baylor. They dominated the boards,” Smith said. “Even though they were struggling shooting the ball I think we did an adequate job out there defensively. We just could not limit them to one shot. That was pretty much the ball game.”
Baylor shot 30.3 percent on the night, but they grabbed 21 offensive rebounds, compared to 15 defensive rebounds for the Red Raiders.
What that means is that if Baylor missed a field goal, the Bears were 16 percent more likely to get the rebound than Texas Tech.
To put that into perspective, if Texas Tech missed a shot, Baylor was 36 percent more likely to get the defensive rebound.
“In practice, we had an emphasis on the board because last time we played them, they out-rebounded us by a lot,” O’Neale said. “We put an emphasis on rebounding offensive and defensively, and that was one of our main keys.”
After the win, Baylor sits as a bubble team on the edge of the NCAA Tournament.
The Bears will look to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament on Senior Night against No. 16 Iowa State in Waco.
Iowa State is heavily dependent on scoring from senior forward Melvin Ejim, senior guard DeAndre Kane and sophomore forward Georges Niang.
The trio combines to average 52.0 points, 19.7 rebounds and 11.4 assists. They have accounted for 60.8 percent of Iowa State’s scoring this season. All three players average more points than anyone on Baylor’s roster.
In the last match up of these two teams, then No. 9 Iowa State pulled away late in an 87-72 win over No. 7 Baylor in Ames. Kane played the biggest game of his Cyclone career, finishing with 30 points, eight rebounds, nine assists and five steals. Franklin added 15 points and four assists in the loss.
The Cyclones lost 80-73 at the hands of Kansas State in Manhattan, Kans. Ejim finished with 30 points and 16 rebounds in the loss. The Wildcats’ bench outscored the Cyclones 38-2 in the win.
“I want to get this win to punch our ticket,” Franklin said. “I’ll be sad that it’s my last game, but I’d rather it be my last game than play NIT games here again. I would love to get this one. I think the stat is that Iowa State scores 62 percent of their points within 10 seconds of getting the ball, so transition defense is key.”
Baylor will play Iowa State at 6 p.m. today at the Ferrell Center in Waco. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN2. The game will serve as Baylor’s Senior Night.