WACO -- Playing a close game against a conference opponent finally came back to bite ninth-ranked Baylor in Saturday's 57-56 loss to Kansas State.
Expect the Bears to tumble out of the top 10 in next rankings as a result of their third loss in four games -- and third in their last five appearances at the Ferrell Center. Rest assured, such sputtering down the stretch is no way to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Especially with the Bears (22-5, 9-5 in Big 12) still facing road trips to Texas and Iowa State that could turn their final placement in the Big 12 standings -- as well as their NCAA seeding -- in the wrong direction. The team is now 5-5 in its last 10 games after a 17-0 start.
Credit Kansas State (18-8, 7-7) for a scrappy defensive effort in what the Wildcats viewed as a must-win proposition in order to land an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. Baylor shot only 38.5 percent from the field and committed 18 turnovers, its second-highest total against any Big 12 opponent this season.
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But this one really came down to opportunities the Bears squandered. And plays Baylor failed to make in a game where leading scorer Perry Jones III finished with more fouls (five) than points (four) or rebounds (four).
Among the blown opportunities were three empty Baylor possessions down the stretch after K-State forward Jordan Henriquez scored the final basket of the game, with 1:55 remaining, to erase the Bears' 56-55 lead.
"Both halves, we started out well and then we missed opportunities to push the game further open," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "That's what was disappointing... Eighteen turnovers is by far too many. And so many of the turnovers were unforced."
But nothing was more disappointing, from a long-haul perspective, than watching the 6-foot-11 Jones, who averages a team-high 13.9 points per game, score in single figures for the third time in four games. All three have been losses. Against K-State, Jones made 2 of 6 shots and attempted no free throws before fouling out with 5:05 to play.
"Obviously, he didn't play a very good game," Drew said. "The biggest number he had was the personal fouls. So we've got to do a better job getting him involved... try to not put him in a situation where he has to worry about fouls. We could have done some different things there."
Baylor also could have built on its early momentum. The Bears jumped to a quick 20-11 lead, which turned into a four-point halftime deficit because of a defensive lapse in the final minute. With a foul to give, Drew said he instructed players to use that foul and prevent a shot on the Wildcats' final possession of the first half. Instead, K-State forward Jamar Samuels buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
"We were going to foul. We were supposed to foul. We didn't foul," Drew said.
Those three points proved pivotal when Baylor, which entered with a 7-1 record in games decided by five points or fewer, saw that mark dip to 7-2 after its second one-point home loss of the season to a Big 12 foe. The Bears remain 4-2 in Big 12 games decided by five points or fewer, but the setback to K-State marked the first time Baylor has lost to a team other than No. 3 Missouri or No. 4 Kansas this season.
Yet the Bears had ample opportunities to win down the stretch, even after Jones fouled out while struggling to defend an alley-oop pass that Henriquez turned into a three-point play with 5:05 remaining. Baylor missed two layups and had a turnover on its final three possessions, although forward Quincy Acy thought extenuating circumstances were involved with his miss at the 1:32 mark.
"I definitely got hit. But I guess the ref missed it," said Acy, adding that he was fouled from behind and in front on the play. But the whistle did not blow and the Bears, after a Pierre Jackson turnover, still had an opportunity to win on their final shot.
Drew opted not to call a timeout after a K-State turnover with 13 seconds to play -- he had three remaining -- and the Bears inbounded quickly, with Jackson penetrating and dishing to forward Quincy Miller in the paint. Miller's layup caromed off the backboard and the rim. It appeared to be redirected by Henriquez, who was credited with a block.
"Miller is usually pretty efficient from down there," said Drew, who expressed satisfaction with his decision not to call timeout and script a final play. "Normally, you like your chances with the ball right there at the end of the game for the last shot."
Normally, you like Baylor's chances down the stretch in a close game, too. But not Saturday. K-State became the first unranked team to defeat Baylor and did so by winning its first conference game decided by three points or fewer this season. Before Saturday, the Wildcats had been 0-3 in those situations, including a 75-73 loss to Baylor in Manhattan, Kan.
"Coming into their building and winning this game after all the losses we've had feels great," said K-State guard Angel Rodriguez, who finished with 15 points and six assists.
For Baylor, the loss will be damaging in the NCAA seeding process. How much depends on how many more losses to unranked teams the Bears suffer between now and March.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760