No. 14 Baylor avoids upset, tops Texas Tech on Senior Night

Junior forward Rico Gathers slams a ball home during No. 14 Baylor's win over Texas Tech on Friday at the Ferrell Center. File Photo
Junior forward Rico Gathers slams a ball home during No. 14 Baylor’s win over Texas Tech on Friday at the Ferrell Center.
File Photo

By Cody Soto
Sports Writer

No. 14 Baylor men’s basketball trailed as many as 12 points in the second half against Texas Tech, but a late rally on senior night helped the Bears take a 77-74 win at the Ferrell Center.

The Bears did not lead the entire game before back-to-back three-point shots by senior forward Royce O’Neale pushed the team’s lead to six with less than two minutes to go. Junior forward Taurean Prince hit several free throws down the stretch and finished the game with 24 points to lead the team.

“Those two three-pointers were huge for us; we got a little spark and it helped us out,” O’Neale said. “Texas Tech did a good job taking care of the ball, rebounding and hitting shots. We had to just stay together; we knew we going to come back but we just had to find the right way.”

Senior guard Kenny Chery and junior forward Rico Gathers had 18 points apiece and accounted for nine rebounds in the win. O’Neale added 10 points in the tightly-contested match. Texas Tech’s Devaungtah Williams finished with 28 points, going 8-for-9 from three-point range.

At one point, Baylor had seven turnovers and seven assists while the Red Raiders had 11 and five respectively. The Bears finished the night with 17 assists and 12 turnovers in the final regular game.

“As a coach, you always want to win on senior night,” head coach Scott Drew said. “Texas Tech played phenomenal, and we really had to execute on the offensive end to give us the chance to win because we couldn’t stop anybody on the defensive end.”

Baylor didn’t start off the game as they normally do at home; instead, they trailed 6-0 early after Williams hit two three-pointers to start the game. Prince hit a layup to put the Bears on the board, and that shot helped Baylor tie up the game 7-7 with 15:49 left in the first half.

The game went back and forth for awhile; both defenses couldn’t stop the offensive drive of their opposing teams. The Red Raiders went up 32-27 after Zach Smith nailed a two-point shot, but Baylor used a three-point bucket from freshman guard Al Freeman and a jumper from Chery to pull within one.

Baylor only trailed by a point at the break, and the Red Raiders put together an 8-0 run to push out the lead to 46-37 with 14 minutes left in the ball game. Things didn’t look good after Isaiah Manderson dunked the ball for the largest Tech lead.

“College basketball is all about runs. One team will go on a run, and the next team will come back, especially in this league (Big 12),” O’Neale said. “I had to stay poised and be one of the leaders as a seniors. Everybody on this team can play; we can all contribute in different ways.”

Free throws become important down the stretch, and the Bears took several trips to the service line to inch closer. After O’Neale’s back-to-back three-pointers, Prince and Chery finished off the game with six consecutive free throws to take the 77-74 win over the Red Raiders.

“This win told us we can be down and come back,” Prince said. “We knew we had to kick it into gear. Credit to our seniors who pep talked us in the timeouts. They delivered down the stretch.”

With several key matchups in the final day of regular season play on Saturday, Baylor will wait and see what seed they get in the Big 12 tournament next week. Baylor will get no lower than a No. 4 seed but could be as high as No. 2 if certain outcomes happen.