By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer
No. 3 Baylor men’s basketball is are back-to-back Big 12 Champions for the first time in program history after defeating Iowa State University 75-68 Saturday night in the Ferrell Center. In the same academic year, Baylor has won Big 12 championships in men’s and women’s basketball and football for the first time in conference history.
“What’s impossible with man is possible with God, that’s been our theme with all the injuries and things we’ve had to overcome this year,” head coach Scott Drew said.
The Bears (26-5, 14-4 Big 12) are Co-Regular Season Big 12 Champions, tying with the University of Kansas (25-6, 14-4 Big 12). Baylor handled business against ISU (20-11, 7-11 Big 12) on Senior Night where they honored forwards Flo Thamba and Matthew Mayer, as well as guards Mitchell Paul and James Akinjo.
Akinjo showed out, leading all scorers with 20 points, adding six assists and four rebounds. The first-year transfer said this is what he envisioned when he came to Baylor.
“One of the big things on my list was to be a winner,” Akinjo said. “Wherever I went, I wanted to make sure that I show that I can win.”
Baylor shot 47.3% from the field, and scored 28 points in the paint. They forced 10 ISU turnovers, and also outrebounded the Cyclones by 10.
“[Akinjo] was really crucial, Adam [Flagler] was crucial, Flo, Kendall, Matt[hew Mayer], Jeremy, everybody came up big,” Drew said. “We all know college basketball starts with guard play. When you have James and Adam out there, and Dale [Bonner] did a good job, you give yourself a chance each and every night.”
The defending champs were red hot to start the game, taking a double-digit lead less than halfway into the first half. Baylor allowed ISU to score just four points in the first 12 minutes of play, jumping out ahead by as many as 25 points.
However, ISU would not go away quietly, ending the half on a 14-2 run to cut the deficit to 10 as Baylor led 39-29 at halftime.
Coming out of the break, the two teams were very back-and-forth, with neither squad taking full control of the game until the Cyclones went on a 10-0 run to take the lead 60-58 with eight minutes to play. The Bears clawed back to tie it before ISU hit a jump shot to take the lead with three minutes left. But that when’s Baylor flipped the switch.
Akinjo immediately responded with a deep three to retake the lead, kicking off a 9-0 run for the Bears to regain control of the game with 1:30 left in the game. Baylor was able to hold off ISU and maintain their share of the Big 12 crown.
“It’s a game of momentum, that’s sports,” Drew said. “They say pressure bursts pipes or makes diamonds. We were making diamonds early, then bursting pipes, and then making diamonds. At the end of the day, it’s a rollercoaster ride.”
Seeded second for the Big 12 Tournament, Baylor will face seventh-seeded University of Oklahoma (17-14, 7-11 Big 12) in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. CT Thursday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.