Baylor squeaks by K-State into Big 12 Semifinal

K-State Wildcats and Baylor Bears compete during the Phillips 66 Big 12 Basketball Championship at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Missouri on March 10, 2021. (Denny Medley\Big 12 Conference)

By Matthew Soderberg | Editor-in-Chief

Baylor men’s basketball started its postseason journey with a harrowing 74-68 win over Kansas State. In the team’s two previous meetings this season, the Bears outscored the Wildcats 207-128, but the nine seed took its first lead over Baylor all season with a three coming out of halftime.

Contributing to the drop off in play from the previous two meetings, Baylor committed a season-high 21 turnovers. Senior guard MaCio Teague said after the game that the team just needs to slow itself down.

“I just felt like we tried to make the homerun play a couple times early in the shot clock, and we’ve just got to be sharper with the ball going forward,” Teague said.

The Bears were 20-point favorites entering Thursday’s matchup, but the deficit never got close to that total. The most Baylor led by was 12 midway through the second half, and it never led by more than seven over Kansas State before the break. Head coach Scott Drew said the Wildcats controlled the game like they hadn’t earlier in the season.

“They’ve really improved and have been playing good basketball, and I thought they were really good today,” Drew said. “They forced us into a lot of those turnovers. I thought we shot it well, but us with 21 turnovers is definitely not what we’ve been about all year, so hopefully we got those all out now, and the rest of the tournament, we’re good and solid with the ball.”

The game started close with a three from both junior guard Jared Butler and senior guard MaCio Teague to kick start the offense for the Bears. Thanks to an 8-3 run starting at the 16:24 mark, Baylor stretched its lead to the largest of the half, but the Wildcats slowly chipped away until the lead was only two by halftime.

Kansas State took three separate one-point leads after heading to the locker room, and Baylor responded with a long term 29-16 run to open up its largest lead of the afternoon, with Teague and junior guard Davion Mitchell providing 20 of those points. Teague said though the run was integral in getting a step up on their opponent, any member of the team could have contributed like that.

“It was really big,” Teague said. “We got out in transition, that was the biggest thing, and it just so happened to be me. Tomorrow it might be … somebody else. We’ve just got to get stops and get out in transition.

The Wildcats broke off 10 of the next 12 points to close the lead to four, and a missed jumper by Mitchell led to a chance for Kansas State to make it a one-score game with less than a minute left. Wildcat freshman guard Nijel Pack jumped to retrieve an errant pass and was bumped by Baylor sophomore guard Adam Flagler midair, immediately throwing up the ball, pleading for a foul call.

There wasn’t a call, and Butler would go to the charity stripe after the turnover with 18 seconds left on the clock. After making both, the Bears closed out the matchup with little drama remaining.

Now moving on to the semifinals, the Bears will take on No. 12 Oklahoma State (No. 5 in the Big 12 tournament) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Kansas City. This time the Cowboys will feature both Cade Cunningham and Isaac Likekele who were unavailable in the team’s previous two meetings. Mitchell said they’ll be prepared for one of the hottest teams in the conference.

“It’s going to be difficult, especially with Likekele,” Mitchell said. “He’s a really good leader for that team. You can just tell on the court he’s one of their leaders. We usually prepare for both of them to play. We never prepare for just one of them to play, so we’re just going to stick to our game plan and hope everything works out.”