By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer
There was a sense of deja vu Wednesday night as No. 7 Baylor men’s basketball once again blew a first-half lead to No. 11 Texas Tech University, losing 83-73 at the United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock.
Baylor (21-5, 9-4 Big 12) lost its fifth game of the season, and second to TTU (19-6, 8-4 Big 12). Despite a strong first half, the Bears lost control of the game early in the second and were unable to complete their late comeback attempt. It was only the fourth time in the last three seasons that Baylor lost after leading at the break.
“We played really well in the first half,” head coach Scott Drew said. “In the second half we turned it over, we didn’t rebound, we didn’t get stops and we didn’t get back in transition. Credit to Texas Tech and credit to their crowd, it’s why they’ve won 18 in a row here.”
Senior guard James Akinjo led the way in scoring for the Bears with 18 points and seven assists. Right behind him was junior guard Adam Flagler with 14, and senior forward Matthew Mayer with 13. Freshman forward Jeremy Sochan finished with eight points and 10 rebounds. Senior forward Flo Thamba ended with seven points and grabbed seven of his nine rebounds off the offensive glass.
The Bears shot 43.9% on field goals and 37.9% from the 3-point line. Although Baylor was able to force 13 turnovers, the team was unable to take care of the ball, with 13 of its own. Even with solid first half defensive play, the Bears allowed four TTU players to score in double digits. Specifically, TTU senior forward Kevin Obanor scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half.
Baylor is still battling injuries, with senior forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchou out for the season with a knee injury he suffered in Baylor’s last outing. The Defensive Player of the Year candidate’s absence was felt in this game.
“First and foremost, [we miss] his [Tchamwa Tchatchou] rebounding, we came into this game the second-best offensive rebounding team in the country,” Drew said. “We haven’t had much time obviously since Jon has been gone and it’s going to take some time to adjust, it’s kind of like starting over with a different team.”
Both teams traded baskets early on, but Baylor was able to pull away with strong efforts on the glass, creating multiple second-chance opportunities. In his first game back from injury, sophomore guard LJ Cryer wasted no time shaking off the rust, hitting his first two attempts from beyond the arc.
The Bears eventually became stagnant on offense, allowing TTU to scrap its way into the lead. A layup from Akinjo put an end to a near four-minute scoring drought to tie the contest at 21, swinging momentum back in Baylor’s direction.
A feisty Baylor steal led to an acrobatic and-1 finish from Mayer that put the Bears ahead eight points with just over three minutes left to play in the first half. Their gritty defense wreaked havoc on TTU and didn’t allow a field goal for the last seven minutes of the half.
At the break, Akinjo led the way with nine points and three assists on 4-of-6 shooting. Mayer followed with eight points of his own. Baylor forced seven turnovers and shot 50% from the field and 42.9% from deep.
It was all TTU to kick off the second half, as multiple runs allowed the Red Raiders to retake the lead with it being 46-42 five minutes into the half. Baylor went on to miss eight straight field goals during a five-minute stretch and TTU took a double digit lead. The Bears were able to cut the deficit to single digits multiple times, even cutting it to five with a minute left of play, but were never able to get over the hump.
Flagler said the Bears’ two losses to TTU can be chalked up to toughness.
“They’re a really tough team, we pride ourselves on being the toughest team always, and they out-toughed us,” Flagler said. “Especially these past two games, so we definitely got to get back and just learn from our mistakes and just grow, because we can’t win if we’re not out-toughing and competing at the highest level against anybody we play.”
Up next, Baylor returns home to play Texas Christian University (16-7, 5-6 Big 12) at 11 a.m. on Saturday in the Ferrell Center, and will air on ESPN2.