By Cody Soto
No. 19 Baylor men’s basketball made a statement last Saturday as it met conference rival Texas for its first meeting this season. Behind an impactful performance from senior guard Kenny Chery, the Bears rolled over the Longhorns 83-60 at the Ferrell Center for their fourth conference win.
Baylor (16-5, 4-4 Big 12) shot 30-for-62 from the court for a 48.4 shooting percentage and limited the Longhorns to only a 38.6 shooting percentage, including only 5-for-26 from three-point range. That statistic killed Texas’ offense. The Bears hit 54.5 percent from the three-point line, allowing Baylor to continue its dominance when the Longhorns cut the lead.
Chery hit 9-of-12 shots including five three-pointers to lead all players with 23 points and added five assists and four rebounds in the win. Senior forward Royce O’Neale also stepped forward and added 20 points and eight rebounds.
In the top-20 matchup, Baylor’s seniors were able to contribute not only on the scoreboard, but as a stealthy backbone when the team struggled in the first half. The efficiency of Baylor’s offense was night and day during the opening 20 minutes; the Bears hit their first eight shots and missed 15 of their next 17 quickly after that.
A three-pointer by Texas’ Javon Felix cut the Baylor lead to four with less than five minutes left in the half. Soon after that, the Bears pulled together an 11-3 run to lead 39-27 into halftime.
“Basketball is a game of runs, so we knew they were going to make a run; we just didn’t know when,” Chery said. “When they cut it down to four, the coaching staff told us to stay poised and keep pushing. That’s exactly what we did, and it went well.”
Head coach Scott Drew said that the Bears were going to need an efficient shooting percentage in order to stay in the game with Texas. Both the Bears and the Longhorns are in the top five of rebounds per game nationally, pulling down an average of 41 rebounds per contest.
“We knew we had to get a good shot on that first one because Baylor and Texas are monster teams on the glass,” Drew said. “If you were depending on more second and third chance shots, it was going to be tough.”
Fans saw major highs and lows during the matchup as the Bears found holes in Texas’ defense to create some space on the scoreboard, but at different times, the Baylor defense looked easy to tear apart. Baylor found a way to move the ball around and caused some confusion for several players guarding Chery. The team effort was evident on Saturday night, finishing the night with 24 assists and only nine turnovers.
“You can’t get much more unselfish playing than 24 assists and only nine turnovers,” Drew said. “I thought it was excellent in offensive execution in making the extra pass.”
The Bears have the opportunity to make a big run in the Big 12, but they need wins on the road in order to push the team into the top half of the conference standings.
Baylor can take care of any conference opponent at home right now, playing some nail biters and blowout wins within the past month against top 25 conference opponents. Each win will have to come with the team effort, and the Bears showed that on Saturday night.
“It was just us sharing the ball,” O’Neale said. “Everybody was finding the right shot and making the shot. It’s just one game, but hopefully we can do the rest and finish strong in the Big 12.”
With the win, Baylor now sits at No. 19 in the Associated Press standings and are the highest-ranked team in the state of Texas. The Bears also have wins over four of the top six teams in the state of Texas: Texas, Texas A&M, TCU and Stephen F. Austin.
Baylor hosts in-state rival TCU in another competitive Big 12 matchup at the Ferrell Center Wednesday night. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m. on ESPNEWS.