By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
Like the ball crashing off the glass, No. 6 Baylor men’s basketball grabbed the Big 12 opener by the horns with a 56-44 victory over Texas, Saturday in the Ferrell Center.
Defense was the name of the game as the Bears held the Longhorns to the fewest points that they’ve held a Big 12 opponent to since 2015, and the fewest points in the Shaka Smart era. Despite a field goal percentage of 31.3 and a three-point percentage of 29.4, Baylor was able to take advantage of strong rebounding and all-around team effort to come away with a double-digit lead.
“Typical Big 12 game — hard fought. Both teams I thought played great defense,” head coach Scott Drew said. “Offensively, probably both teams missed a lot of shots because of the defense. First conference games, they are always a little bit amped up and a little excited … I’m pleased with how everyone contributed and that’s what you got to do to win the Big 12”
Texas head coach Shaka Smart said that Baylor’s ability to capitalize on their rebounds was a “huge difference tonight.” The Bears out-rebounded Texas 48-35 and scored 21 second chance points to the Longhorn’s five. Senior forward Freddie Gillespie, who has the second-most rebounds in the conference behind West Virginia’s Derek Culver, led Baylor off the glass with 12 boards against the Longhorns.
“We just threw a lot of different looks at them — try to see what works, what didn’t stick,” Gillespie said. “I think the important thing, though, was defending the three-point line. They only got one three in the first half and it was crucial.”
Redshirt junior guard MaCio Teague scored a game-high 21 points and was a perfect 9-9 from the free throw line, contributing to Baylor’s 87.5 free throw percentage. Teague said the home court advantage helped the Bears in staying focused at the line.
“This past week Coach Drew really stressed shooting free throws coming up into Big 12 play,” Teague said. “We just stayed locked in at the line. It was a home game, a gym we’re familiar with, so we just stayed locked in at the line and just shot with confidence.”
While UT was strong in the paint, scoring 26 points inside the line, the Longhorns weren’t able to put away their opportunities. Texas junior forward Jericho Sims was the only player to notch a double-double from either team with 15 boards and 13 points. Smart said Sims was the Longhorn’s saving grace on a night where Texas just couldn’t put away its shots.
“He’s the one guy tonight who really grabbed the ball,” Smart said. “And there were some possessions where he didn’t and we really needed him to. But he got half of our rebounds … He fought and this was one of his better games. You know how it is with Jericho — there’s always one more he can do and that’s the exciting thing about him but he definitely played the best out of anyone on our team.”
The game started off in slow tempo with Longhorns junior guard Jase Febres drawing a foul off Baylor sophomore guard Jared Butler to put UT on the board with the first of Texas’ five free throws. Redshirt junior forward Mark Vital responded with a fast-break dunk on a steal off a bad pass by Febres.
The Bears built their way up to their first 10-point lead with points by Teague, senior guard Devonte Bandoo and Gillespie, followed by a three from Butler. Baylor was finally able to break away at the end of the half, going on a 9-0 run to build a 13-point lead on free throws by Teague and Butler. Sophomore guard Matthew Mayer iced the 36-23 lead at halftime with a three on an offensive rebound.
Now that the Bears have started off the new decade with a victory, they’ll look ahead to a tough schedule against two of the league’s four ranked teams. As the second best conference for basketball in the nation, all Big 12 teams currently hold a .583 winning percentage or higher. Drew said that the exciting thing about playing in this league is that everyone plays at a high level.
“That’s the thing about the Big 12: it doesn’t matter who’s playing, you know you’re in for a great game,” Drew said.
Baylor faces off against No. 22 Texas Tech at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Lubbock, Texas and then travels for a Top-10 matchup versus the No.3-ranked Jayhawks at noon, Saturday, Jan. 11 in Lawrence, Kan. Tuesday night’s game will be broadcast on ESPN2 while Saturday’s game will play on CBS.