Sports take: Baylor men’s basketball vastly exceeded expectations

Baylor senior guard Makai Mason drives against Gonzaga on Saturday in Salt Lake City in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Mason scored 17 points in his final game in a Baylor uniform as the Bears fell 83-71 to the No. 1-seeded Bulldogs. Associated Press

By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer

The Baylor men’s basketball season has officially come to an end after the Bears were defeated by Gonzaga 83-71 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.

After a four-game losing streak prior to the tournament, all eyes were on the Bears to see if they could pull off a win in the first round against Syracuse.

Plagued with injury, lacking height and facing a general inconsistency, the Bears were the underdogs and miraculously pulled off the win after 16 lead changes to advance to the second round.

The win was a team effort as three players ended the night with double digit points and Baylor hit 16 3-pointers.

As the Bears advanced to the second round, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index predicted Baylor had a 6.2 percent chance of pulling off a win. If they were an underdog against Syracuse, they were basically roadkill for Gonzaga.

Yet that wasn’t the case.

The Bears struggled in the first half, trailing 39-23, but in the second half, the Bears opened with 10 straight points and soon brought the game within five.

If you’re anything like me, your eyes were glued to the screen and my heart was racing as I realized one thing — this team had a chance to pull it off.

There’s one thing you can’t take away from the Bears: their heart.

It carried them throughout the season and that alone sets this team apart to win games and do more than anyone expected.

This team was seriously underrated and overlooked.

When I went to the first game of the season against Texas Southern, I got worried when I saw the team fall short within the few last minutes of play. If there’s one thing my dad taught me about sports, it’s not how you start a game, it’s how you finish it.

The first game of the season set a certain tone for the team that had me questioning their ability throughout the season. Then later in the season, they lost sophomore forward Tristan Clark to a knee injury and went into a bit of a back-and-forth funk of winning and losing.

When you can’t establish a clear consistency, whether it’s losing or winning, you never know where you stand or what your team really succeeds in and what it lacks. It’s hard to watch games you know you should’ve won, but on the contrary, it’s mind boggling watching the games you never expected to win.

It wasn’t until their second matchup against the Longhorns a few weeks ago, where they came back from an 11-point deficit going into the half and into overtime to pull off an 84-83 victory.

A big reason that game stood out to me is the fact I wasn’t following it, to begin with. One of my friends back home in Colorado sent me the losing score in the first 10 minutes and I brushed it off, then later that night I saw the game on TV and saw how much fight had to be in those athletes to come back and pull off a win.

At that moment, I realized this team had potential, and that no one seemed to be giving the credit where it was due.

It’s not easy being a team of underclassmen, losing talent due to injuries and in a sense having to look to a limited number of seniors, especially Makai Mason, to carry the team with impressive 3’s. It’s not easy playing a 30-game season without a full team and not having the desired depth on the bench.

The fact the men made it to the NCAA Tournament and were able to pull together to show how much passion they had should speak for itself.

If they could get to the second round, and stay within 12 points with a No. 1 seed, imagine how far they could get with a healthy and experienced team.