Baylor’s four-night charge through the Big 12 basketball tournament finally hit a speed bump Saturday in the team’s final five minutes at the Sprint Center.
No. 16 Iowa State took full advantage, shaking off a frigid start from the field with a furious finish that dashed the Bears’ hopes of becoming the first school from Texas to claim a Big 12 tournament title.
Instead, the Cyclones cut down the nets after a 74-65 victory and made a strong case to be a No. 2 seed when the NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee releases its 68-team bracket this evening.
Baylor (24-11), which trailed for only 1:37 of 120 minutes while rolling to victories in its first three games in Kansas City, did not trail Saturday until Cyclones forward Melvin Ejim buried a 3-pointer with 5:43 remaining to take a 53-50 lead.
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It was one of several pivotal baskets in a late-game surge, when Iowa State connected on 23 of its final 32 shots (71.9 pct.) after making just 1 of 15 to start the contest.
“Guarded or not, it’s hard to shoot 70 percent from the field,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Let’s give them credit. They deserved the win.”
But Baylor did not go quietly. The Bears reclaimed a 58-56 lead before a 10-0 run by ISU put the game away. Guard Naz Long (12 points, 4 of 6 from behind the arc) and Ejim (10 points, 9 rebounds) got things going with 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions before a Hogue layup and a pair of free throws by Georges Niang (13 points, 9 rebounds) sealed the deal with 2:06 remaining.
While disappointing, the setback did not dampen the confidence of the Bears, who will head into this week’s NCAA Tournament with a 10-2 record in their last 12 games.
“We don’t get to cut these nets down, but we’re going to cut some down in Dallas,” said Baylor guard Brady Heslip, referring to the Final Four that will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
What Heslip, a Canadian, lacks in knowledge of DFW geography, he made up for in long-range shooting accuracy. Heslip (14 points) canned 4 of 6 shots from behind the arc, joining point guard Kenny Chery (16 points, 5 assists) in keeping the Bears on track until the final five minutes.
With the victory by ISU (26-7), Baylor became the latest school from Texas to fall in the final of a Big 12 tournament. The tally during the league’s 18-year existence is 0-10 in these title-game matchups, with Baylor (0-3), Texas (0-6) and Texas Tech (0-1) all being forced to watch other schools’ net-cutting ceremonies.
“You’re more disappointed the closer you get to winning the championship,” Drew said. “But our goal all year long, the main goal, is the NCAA Tournament. We have that in front of us, and I definitely feel good with how we’re playing. We can compete with anybody.”
So can Iowa State, which fell behind 11-1 to start the contest because of a frosty shooting touch. The Cyclones missed their first 13 shots from the field but began finding the range thereafter.
Boosted by a raucous, pro-ISU crowd, the Cyclones erased a 32-27 halftime deficit to secure the team’s first Big 12 tournament title since 2000.
ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said he felt fortunate that his team was the first among Baylor’s four opponents in Kansas City to rebound from one of the Bears’ game-turning early surges.
“Baylor’s been doing that the last three days, jumping out to big leads on teams,” Hoiberg said. “Once we got the ball in spots where we could take advantage of their defense, we started making shots. Our guys played very poised down the stretch.”
Ideally, Drew would like for the teams to meet again.
“Coach Hoiberg has done a great job,” Drew said. “As I told him before the game, hopefully I see them at the Final Four the next time. So that’s what we’ll both work for.”