Both teams needed this one.
Texas needed it to avoid losing three in a row for the first time all season and prove that it hadn’t peaked too early. Baylor needed it to keep itself off the proverbial NCAA Tournament bubble and win five straight games in Big 12 play for the first time since 1998.
But it was the Longhorns, behind Javan Felix’s sharp-shooting from beyond the arc and Cam Ridley’s muscle in the paint, who picked up the victory. Felix hit a career-high seven 3-pointers, and Ridley had his way down low, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a 74-69 victory over the Bears at the Erwin Center on Wednesday night.
“It just felt good coming out of my hand today,” said Felix, who scored 21 points. “This is definitely a good win for us, definitely what we needed. We’ve just got to put it behind us and look forward to Saturday against Oklahoma.”
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Felix hit five 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes for the Longhorns, one shy of a school record for most in a half, while Texas held Baylor to 25 percent shooting (8-for-32) from the floor and held a commanding 42-27 halftime lead.
“We were just executing, making shots and playing defense,” said Jonathan Holmes, who chipped in 14 points and eight rebounds. “Javan did a good job making shots. The rest of us kind of rallied around that and built up a lead.”
But Baylor did not go down without a fight. The Bears scored the first seven points of the first half before four straight points from Ridley, the last two coming on an emphatic dunk, put Texas back on top, 49-37, early in the second half.
The Bears quickly went on an 8-0 run, however, and made the Longhorns work for the victory in the final minutes. Kenny Chery, who poured in a career-high 27 points, scored eight straight for Baylor at one point to make it a three-point game. Royce O’Neal drained a 3-pointer on the ensuing Bears possession to trim the Texas lead to two points.
Cory Jefferson’s layup with 1:46 remaining even put Baylor within one point. But the Longhorns never let the Bears, whose only lead of the night came on Jefferson’s jumper to start the game, back on top.
“I’m proud of the way we competed in the second half, but disappointed in how we executed down the stretch,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “I thought their physicality really bothered us. In the second half, we played a lot better and answered the ball. But you’ve got to do that for 40 minutes.”
Isaiah Taylor’s floater with 43.8 seconds left gave the Longhorns a three-point advantage, 72-69, and Ridley’s block of a Chery layup sealed the Texas win, a big one for a Longhorns squad jockeying for NCAA Tournament seeding position.
“The whole game he was attacking the basket,” Ridley said of Chery. “You could tell the way he was shooting the ball, he was going to drive it. I tried not to foul him but I wanted to block that shot.”
Meanwhile, the Bears are stuck at 18 wins — as many regular-season victories as they had last season before their NIT title run. Their final three regular-season games, at home against Texas Tech and Iowa State before a trip to Kansas State, loom much larger after Wednesday’s defeat.
“They’re real big,” Jefferson said. “These last games right here [determine] what’s going to happen after our season, depending on the way we’re playing. We’ve just got to go out there and play like we did in the second half, more than the first.”