Shooting woes pain Bears with loss to Oklahoma State in Big 12 semifinal

Oklahoma State Cowboys 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

No. 2 Baylor men’s basketball finished its Big 12 tournament experience with an 83-74 loss to Oklahoma State Friday night. The Bears led by as many as eight with under eight minutes remaining, but a 13-2 run by the Cowboys starting with 2:07 left in the game finished off the favorite.

Oklahoma State came out of the gate hungry. After the Bears built an 8-2 lead featuring threes by senior guard MaCio Teague and junior guard Jared Butler, the Cowboys clicked off the next nine points and didn’t slow down from there.

After giving up 15 fast break points in the first half, Baylor trailed 35-30 going into the break. Senior forward Mark Vital said he couldn’t believe how quick the opponents were getting behind them.

“It was very frustrating,” Vital said. “We’re always crashing hard, but some way, somehow they were getting out. We don’t know if a guy was leaking out. I don’t know what was going on, but they did a good job. They repped it in practice and must’ve been repping it all year. It was very frustrating.”

The Cowboys held the lead around five through the first three and a half minutes of the second before the Bears began to whittle away. Four free throws and three two-point shots later and Baylor swung its way into a four point lead with 13:35 left to play.

Cade Cunningham and Isaac Likekele supplied seven of the next 10 points to tie the game back up, but Baylor responded with its own 10-2 run, featuring seven from Teague, to pull the favorites’ lead up to its highest point of the game.

A media timeout surged momentum back into the Cowboys as they ripped off the next six points. After trading a pair of twos, Teague launched up a three point bomb to bring the lead back to five, and Cunningham responded with two threes of his own to take back the lead for Oklahoma State.

Between the 4:23 and 2:31 marks, the lead changed or the score was tied five times. Then, the Cowboys finished the game off with their run. In the last two minutes and seven seconds, the Bears missed seven of their eight shots as the lead stretched before them. Teague put the reason for missteps at the end of the game simply after the matchup.

“They executed, and we didn’t,” Teague said.

Cowboys Cunningham and Avery Anderson III each outscored the highest scorer for the Bears Friday with 25 and 20 respectively. Cunningham’s 20 in the second half would have done the same. Vital said the Oklahoma State guard was the difference down the stretch.

“Cunningham got hot,” Vital said. “He’s proving that he’s player of the year. He showed why he’s player of the year, and I feel that we should have kept Davion [Mitchell] on him. That was it.”

For Baylor, Teague paced the squad with 17, while Butler followed with 16 points and junior guard Davion Mitchell with 13. The No. 2 team in the country and No. 1 squad in the Big 12 shot a paltry 39% from the floor and 21% from deep, both good for its second worst clips on the season. Head coach Scott Drew mentioned the stress on his players’ bodies after a 21 day break and getting a game yesterday as to why the shooting wasn’t up to par.

“It’s hard to win when you shoot that from three,” Drew said. “That’s one of the toughest things about playing multi-game tournaments. When you’re playing three games in three days, the legs do go bad, and that’s why your offensive execution has to be at such a higher level, so your shot quality allows you to shoot a better percentage when you are fatigued. Oklahoma State in the first half had us taking some shots that were tough shots if you’re fresh.”

Vital supplied the bulk of the Bear rebounds with 15, and his eight offensive boards nearly beat out the entirety of Oklahoma State’s nine. Even with a +10 differential on the offensive glass, Baylor only led in second chance points by one basket.

The Bears will await their fate until Sunday when the NCAA tournament bracket is released. They are projected as a No. 1 seed even with their latest loss. Vital said the defeat will be a good refresher heading into the prospective final six games of the season.

“We needed that loss in a way,” Vital said. “We came here in the mindset that we were already champions of the Big 12, and we had to change our mindset to get back hungry. Going into the tournament now that we’ve been thrown, we’ve got to go in there with energy — with a chip on our shoulder.”