For most of the season, No. 16 Baylor has kept itself in the thick of the Big 12 race and on pace to grab a favorable seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament with impressive displays of team defense.
The Bears headed into Monday night’s game against No. 21 Oklahoma State having held opponents to a collective 41.2 field-goal percentage this season. No team had topped the 73-point mark.
Oklahoma State bettered both marks Monday in the Ferrell Center, using a sizzling second-half spree from behind the arc to take down Baylor 74-65. The Cowboys’ surge, led by guards Phil Forte and Jeff Newberry, allowed OSU (17-7, 7-5 Big 12) to end a three-game winning streak by the Bears (18-6, 6-5), who had won all three by double-digit margins.
In turn, the Cowboys made a little history of their own. They opened the second half by making four consecutive 3-pointers, as well as 5-of-6, to turn the momentum and record their third consecutive victory over a Top 25 opponent.
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It marked the first time in school history that OSU has knocked off three consecutive ranked opponents during the regular season. Previously, OSU’s only three-game winning streaks against ranked teams had come during Final Four runs in 1995 and 2004.
“That’s a great accomplishment,” OSU coach Travis Ford said, reflecting on the milestone. “But we’ve got to be humble and move on. We’re trying to make the NCAA tournament. This helps. But we still have a lot of work to do. If they stay humble and they understand who they are, we’ll continue to win some games. If that changes, we won’t.”
The Cowboys stayed true to Ford’s blueprint Monday night, making 46.3 percent of their shots (25-of-54), including 6-of-9 from behind the arc in the second half.
Forte (18 points) got things rolling with a four-point play to cut into Baylor’s 37-32 lead. Newberry (16 points) ended the run with a jumper to give OSU a 52-43 advantage with 13:15 to play. Baylor never closed closer than three points the rest of the way.
For the Bears, who entered with a five-game winning streak in Waco and their highest ranking of the season in The Associated Press poll, the uncharacteristic defensive lapses bothered coach Scott Drew.
“Losing at home really stinks,” Drew said. “After three big wins, we got up [early] and we kept thinking that we’d put them away or they’d go away. But in the second half, we ran out of gas. They made some big shots, so they deserve credit.”
Baylor helped OSU’s cause by going 0-for-9 from beyond the arc in the second half, as well as surrendering 20 points off turnovers. In short, hardly the type of basketball the Bears played during recent signature victories over No. 21 West Virginia (87-69), Texas (83-60) and No. 17 Oklahoma (69-58).
But in a balanced Big 12, where every team has lost at least two conference games and eight schools are in the mix for NCAA tournament berths, Baylor has little time for reflection before trying to bounce back Saturday against No. 8 Kansas (19-4, 8-2) in Lawrence, Kan.
“That’s Big 12 basketball for you,” Bears forward Rico Gathers said, reflecting on Monday night’s missed opportunity to creep closer to the top of the league standings. “When you’re up, you’ve got to be able to seal the deal. But we didn’t do that.”
Instead, Oklahoma State did. Now, the Cowboys will carry a three-game winning streak, as well as a significant spike in confidence, into Fort Worth for Saturday’s game against TCU (5 p.m., ESPNU).
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Newberry said of the Cowboys’ ability to silence their critics in recent weeks. “We’ve won some big games, but we don’t dwell on it too much. We just try to move on to the next one.”
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760