No. 3 seed Baylor men’s basketball falls to No. 6 seed Clemson 72-64 in third straight second-round exit

Baylor men's basketball hasn't reached the Sweet 16 or better since the 2020-21 season, when it won the national championship. Camie Jobe | Photographer

By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer, Braden Murray | LTVN Sports Director

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After senior guard RayJ Dennis powered through contact and ended a scoring drought that lasted just over two minutes, No. 3 seed Baylor men’s basketball was down by 13 with just over six minutes to play.

LTVN’s Braden Murray gives details on the bears heartbreaking loss

At the same moment the contested shot snapped the nylon, Bears head coach Scott Drew passionately called a timeout and gathered the troops to spur a rally.

“I said, ‘Let’s have the best comeback of the NCAA Tournament,'” Drew said. “I think they were excited about that. We couldn’t change anything that happened before, but the last six minutes we could change.”

As Drew hoped, the excitement whirled into a 14-3 Baylor run that cut No. 6 seed Clemson’s lead to two. But with the chance to even the game at the free-throw line for the first time since minutes after tipoff, freshman guard Ja’Kobe Walter missed both.

The Tigers (23-11) erased the late Baylor bid with six consecutive free-throw makes to boot the Bears (24-10) from the NCAA Tournament in the round of 32 for the third consecutive year. Clemson wound up winning 72-64 on Sunday night at FedExForum.

The Bears missed eight free throws in the second half, with four being the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity. They finished the day 16-for-26 from the charity stripe.

“The irony is we spent more time shooting free throws with this group than any other group,” Drew said. “And we’ve really made a lot of strides and a lot of improvement, but today we got snake bit. And Ja’Kobe is one of our best free throw shooters, has been all year. If it was late in the game, we’d try to get him the ball.”

Graduate student forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, the longest-tenured Bear on the roster, said the game came down to a slow start paired with a rough shooting day. Baylor hit 16 threes in its blowout win over No. 14 seed Colgate on Friday, and it made just six on 25% efficiency on Sunday.

“We’re one of the best shooting teams in the nation. We just couldn’t get it to fall early,” Tchamwa Tchatchoua said. “We outrebounded them (33 to 32). We had more paint points (30 to 22). We did everything right.

“We just didn’t make free throws today. I mean, we can’t be perfect. We’re human beings. … We were down two with a minute to go, so we need to praise [the team] for that. They definitely do have fight.”

Dennis led the Bears with a season-high 27 points — which is tied for third-most in Baylor NCAA Tournament history — on 9-of-21 shooting overall. Walter also tallied 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the floor but went just 5-for-11 from the free-throw line.

The pair brought down six rebounds each, which led the team, while Dennis and junior guard Jayden Nunn each added a team-high three steals. Senior forward Jalen Bridges was the only other player in double-figure scoring, as he tallied 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field.

The Bears struggled in the first half as Clemson strapped six 3-pointers, and Baylor shot just 8-of-24 from the floor. Baylor tied a season low with seven assists on the game, four of which came in the slow first 20 minutes. The matchup reached a boiling point as Clemson senior guard Chase Hunter double-pumped and sank a buzzer beater to send the Tigers to the half with a 35-25 lead.

“We had been in that position a couple times before this year,” Dennis said. “And starting with the coaches trickling down all the way through to the last guy on the roster, everybody kept their composure, and we were confident that we could come back and make it a game.”

For the first nine minutes of the second half, Clemson’s 10-point halftime lead proved to be critical, as with every Baylor bucket, the Tigers answered and didn’t let the Bears sniff a two-possession deficit. Following Drew’s invigorating timeout, Baylor’s fate shifted, at least for a while.

“It starts with defense,” Nunn said. “If we can’t score, they’re not going to score either. So we just made it a plan to get stops on the defensive end. We fought back good. We showed good toughness. I can’t complain. We were down double digits, but we fought back. I’m happy with the way we responded.”

Walter and Dennis combined for 16 points during an 18-5 run that started before Drew’s timeout. With 36 seconds left on the clock down 66-64, Walter drew the fifth foul of the day from Clemson senior center PJ Hall. With the opportunity to tie the game for the first time since a 5-5 score at the 17-minute mark, all eyes turned to the potential NBA lottery selection.

Despite the encouragement, Walter shanked both free throws, and his frustration led to raw emotion and tears.

“It’s going to hurt now, but he has a lot of big things ahead of him, especially coming down the road soon,” redshirt sophomore guard Langston Love said. “So just for him moving forward, just use it as strength and just use this moment to boost him forward later on.”

Baylor held Clemson without a field goal for the last 6:41, but in a bad situation, the Tigers hit 11-of-13 free throws during the cold spell to put the game away and punch their ticket to the Sweet 16 by a score of 72-64.

As the Bears walked off the court, Walter, sophomore forward Josh Ojianwuna and several other players and coaches teared up. This group describes itself as one big family.

“It’s hard because when you coach 30-plus years, there’s certain teams that are just more special than others because of the bond you have,” Drew said. “I hurt for them. I hurt that we won’t be together with them.”

With the season in the books, the Bears now shift their focus to the transfer portal and the 2024-25 season.