No. 11 Baylor men’s basketball’s late push not enough as Texas Tech hangs on for 78-68 win

Redshirt sophomore guard Langston Love (ankle) made his second appearance since Feb. 6 on Saturday, as he missed seven of the last eight games. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer

After freshman guard Ja’Kobe Walter knocked down the game’s first shot, No. 11 Baylor men’s basketball only held that lead for 16 seconds, as Texas Tech rattled off a 16-0 run.

The Bears didn’t see the lead again until down the stretch of the second half, and even then, Baylor was only able to hang onto it for 22 seconds.

The Red Raiders’ answered the Bears’ second-half run with a 14-2 rally of their own to hand Baylor a 78-68 loss in the Big 12 regular season finale on Saturday night at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock.

“Well, finished the Big 12 season, never disappoints,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said after the game. “I thought we did a great job of coming back. Really credit Texas Tech for making some big shots. We had some defensive breakdowns and errors — that’s on us.”

The setback marked the Bears’ first and only double-digit loss of conference play.

The Red Raiders (22-9, 11-7 Big 12) had the Bears (22-9, 11-7 Big 12) on the ropes right out of the gate, leading 16-2 and forcing Drew to call two timeouts in the first five minutes. Leading by as much as 16 in the second half, Baylor was eventually able to draw its first lead since just after tipoff when it led 54-53, but Texas Tech closed the game by hitting seven of its last nine shots to silence the Bears’ hopes of a comeback win.

Walter led Baylor with 15 points — 13 of those coming in the second half — on 5-of-13 shooting from the floor, and he racked up a pair of steals in the regular season finale. Junior guard Jayden Nunn (14) and senior guard RayJ Dennis (12) were the only other Bears who finished in double-figure scoring, while Dennis also led the team with five assists and matched Walter’s two steals.

Redshirt sophomore guard Langston Love, who suffered an injury in the first meeting between the two teams on Feb. 6, returned to the court after missing eight of the Bears’ last nine games. Love scored nine points, going 4-for-7 from the floor, and added five rebounds.

After falling behind 16-2, the Bears traded buckets with the Red Raiders and trailed 40-27 at halftime. Baylor was outrebounded 22-12 in the first 20 minutes and was unable to secure an offensive rebound or second-chance points for the first time in a half all year.

“I didn’t prepare us to fight hard enough to get rebounds the first half,” Drew said. “Second half, I thought we were more like ourselves. We’re a top-25 rebounding team for a reason. I don’t know when the last time we had zero offensive rebounds in a half was. I don’t know if it’s ever happened. So, credit Tech.”

While the first half didn’t go Baylor’s way, the Bears forced the Red Raiders into foul trouble. As Texas Tech moved starters to the bench, Baylor took advantage and snagged the lead after a 25-8 run in the middle of the second half. Walter and Nunn proved to be critical as they combined for 23 of the Bears’ 41 points in those final 20 minutes.

Walter said Dennis’ ability to penetrate Texas Tech’s defense changed the trajectory of the game.

“We saw when we got to the paint and they started helping out, we had threes and we had the opportunity to hit them,” Walter said. “In the first half, we weren’t kicking [the ball] out.”

However, right when Baylor found its footing, Texas Tech hit four-straight 3-pointers and countered with a 14-2 run en route to snagging the 78-68 win.

“Pop [Isaacs] made a big three to take that lead back,” Drew said. “Again, I thought [Coach McCasland] did a good job of calling some good plays. They had some good looks.

“They made them, and then they made some tough ones. And when you get on a run, you get the crowd going. That’s tough, especially when you exert that energy to come back.”

Despite the result, the Bears clinched the No. 3 seed in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship. Top-four seeds get a double-bye and start the tournament on Thursday in the quarterfinals. Tipoff for Baylor’s to-be-determined matchup is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. on Thursday at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo.