By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
After freshman guard Keyonte George knocked down a pair of free throws, No. 17 Baylor men’s basketball held a three-point lead over the University of Arkansas with four seconds left in the game. Despite some madness at the end, the Bears were able to hold on for the 67-64 win Saturday afternoon in the Ferrell Center.
Following George’s free throws, the Razorbacks (14-6, 3-5 SEC) inbounded the ball and were fouled two seconds later by junior guard LJ Cryer, sending Arkansas junior guard Davonte Davis to the line. The Bears’ head coach Scott Drew decided to have his group foul the opposition, preventing them from having a chance to tie it with a three-pointer.
Drew called it a “51% or 49% call” where “sometimes you go with your gut.”
Davis missed the one-and-one opportunity and the ball rolled out to Arkansas’ freshman guard Joseph Pinion in the right corner with a chance to send the game to overtime. Drew said he wasn’t so sure fouling up three was the right move when Pinion had a wide open look in the corner.
But Pinion missed the cup entirely and Baylor, which shot an abysmal 34% from the field, walked off victorious.
“After the corner three went up, it didn’t feel as good [to foul up three] but sometimes it’s better to be blessed and lucky than good,” Drew said.
Saturday’s matchup was part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge that will no longer exist following this season. Baylor and Arkansas, two old Southwest Conference foes, met for the first time since they competed in the 2021 Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
George scored seven-straight points down the stretch to push the team past the Hogs. He totalled 24 points on 8 of 20 from the field, 3 of 5 from deep. Cryer had another hot first half and finished with 20 points on 50% three-point shooting and 6 of 13 field goals.
Junior forward Jalen Bridges continued his strong play with a 10-point and seven rebound outing. Five of his seven boards came on the offensive glass.
The Bears jumped out to a 14-5 lead in the first six minutes, 19 seconds of action, highlighted by 10 quick points from Cryer. He hit a pair of threes to get the Ferrell Center crowd on its feet. Baylor athletics announced that there were 10,627 fans in attendance, the second most in Ferrell Center history. The top mark (10,682) was set in 2022 when the University of Kansas came to Waco.
George came back down the court a couple of minutes later and sank a three-point shot to give the Bears a 19-8 lead, the biggest of the game for either side. The Razorbacks hung around and kept it tight for the final 10 minutes of the half.
Baylor went scoreless for the last four minutes, 13 seconds and Arkansas took advantage with an 11-0 run over that same stretch. The Hogs were able to mount a 33-27 lead going into the break. To that point, the Bears only connected on 24% of their shots from the field, while the Razorbacks were 61% in that same category.
Drew had his group switch into a 1-3-1 zone in the second half. It slowed Arkansas’ offense down and limited downhill drives from its standout junior guard Ricky Council IV, who torched the Baylor defense in the first half with 14 points on 6 of 7 shooting from the floor.
“I feel like [the zone] just kind of gave them a different look, and we run different actions out of our zone,” Bridges said. “We just like mixing it up sometimes when we’re struggling to get multiple stops in a row.”
A three by Bridges and layup plus the foul from George tied the contest at 44 points apiece with 11 minutes, 52 seconds to go. It was a heavyweight slugfest the rest of the way, as both programs traded buckets and never amassed a large lead.
With three minutes, three seconds remaining in the game, the score 57-53 in favor of the Bears, George began his domination. The true freshman started with a jumper in the paint and finished a layup the next time down. The Hogs scored a layup of their own but George waltzed right back down the hardwood and drilled a triple to make it 62-55 with one minute, 21 seconds to go.
Arkansas scored four quick points to cut its lead to three, but Bridges made one of two free throws to give the Bears a four-point lead. Davis converted on a three-point play and the Razorbacks only trailed by one with 19 seconds remaining. Then, Cryer was fouled and he made his two free throws before Davis scored another easy layup as the clock hit the four-second mark.
George came up with a clutch pair of free throws and the team escaped 67-64, but not without some drama.
“We had to gut that one out,” George said. “Shots aren’t going to fall [all] the time.”
Baylor will have another quick turnaround as it heads into a Big Monday showdown with No. 10 University of Texas at The Moody Center in Austin. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. on ESPN. Drew expects a tough battle from an experienced Longhorns (17-4, 6-2 Big 12) group.
“I think [they’re] the 11th oldest team in the country or something like that,” Drew said. “And early on, they beat Arkansas in a scrimmage by 40 or something. So, it’s a team that knows what they’re doing. It’ll be a typical Big Monday game.”