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TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT #20 Bears Escape With 69-64 Win over Buccaneers

Nov. 21, 2013

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

Scott Drew's hair is already thinning. If this keeps up, Baylor's 11th-year head basketball coach might not have any by the end of the season.

The 20th-ranked Bears seemed firmly in control with a 10-point lead in the final two minutes. But with Baylor turning it over twice in a 17-second span, upset-minded Charleston Southern scored seven unanswered points and had an open 3-pointer to tie it before falling, 69-64, on Wednesday before a Ferrell Center crowd of 5,185.

"No coach likes it when you hve a chance to not let it get that close," said Drew, whose team improved to 4-0 heading into the Maui Invitational. "We obviously didn't take care of the ball and finish well. . . . These are RPI games that are nerve-wracking because they test your guys, but down the road these games really help you."

Nothing's come particularly easy for the Bears in their sixth 4-0 start in the last seven years. And Wednesday was certainly no exception.

The much smaller Buccaneers - Baylor's frontline of 7-1 center Isaiah Austin and 6-9 forward Cory Jefferson dwarfed a team that didn't have a starter over 6-8 - stayed in it by hitting 12-of-26 from outside the 3-point arc and never went away.

"I thought our team competed hard and gave ourselves a chance to win, and that's what you ask for on the road," said Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh, whose team fell to 2-3 with its second road loss to a top-25 team in the last four days. "We've been in a lot of these games . . . we just can't seem to get over the hump. The next step for us is to win one of these games."

As improbable as it might have seemed, facing a 10-point deficit with a little over 1 ½ minutes left, the Buccaneers came close to pulling this one off.

Baylor maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second half, getting it back to a 10-point bulge with 2:01 left when Austin sank one of two free throws for a 67-57 edge.

But that's when it started slipping away.

After missing a 3-pointer, Charleston Southern guard Arlon Harper weaved inside for a layup off a dish from Cedrick Bowen off an offensive board, starting a 7-0 run by the Buccaneers. Will Saunders knocked down a pair of free throws after an Austin turnover, and then made it a three-point game when he nailed a 3-pointer after point guard Kenny Chery threw it away.

"Making the 3 is what they do best," said Baylor senior guard Gary Franklin, who had eight points, five assists and five boards. "It's hard to keep a team away from doing what they do best, especially a good team like them. Even when they penetrated, we just had our bigs down there to block shots like Isaiah and Cory did tonight. That was our main point of emphasis. The fact that they got some 3s, that's what they're expected to do."

Austin, who finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and eight blocks, had a chance to basically seal the deal. But on a spin inside, his shot came up short.

That gave the Buccaneers a chance to tie it in the final seconds, but Nimley missed a 3-pointer from the wing and then stepped out of bounds when Matt Kennedy pitched it back to him off an offensive rebound.

"I really wanted Matt to take that shot, and he was unselfish, trying to get a great one," Radebaugh said. "But that was probably our best look that we were going to get. That contested 3 with a couple seconds to go was probably the best look we were going to get. . . . That's what I'm talking about, getting over the hump, just without any type of conscious, just taking that 3."

Chery finally clinched it with a pair of free throws with 7.8 seconds left, helping the Bears avoid an early-season loss to a team from Charleston, S.C., for the second year in a row. College of Charleston defeated a 24th-ranked Baylor team, 63-59, last November in Waco.

"Having games like this helps you mature a little bit, especially going into conference play in the Big 12," Franklin said. "It helps you mature for those situations. Obviously, we'd like for every game to be a blowout all the way to the national championship. But you can't have them like that all the time. So, this was a good test for us tonight."

While Charleston Southern was bombing away all night, the Bears leaned more on their inside duo of Austin and Jefferson. Against the undersized Buccaneers, that duo combined for 32 points, 19 rebounds and 10 of the team's 12 blocks.

"It wasn't necessarily just to get it into the bigs," said Jefferson, who posted his third straight double-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. "We just wanted to get the ball in the paint, whether it was the guards penetrating or passing it into the bigs and them scoring. However we did it, that was our main point of emphasis was to get the ball to the paint."

Baylor jumped out to an 8-0 lead and held Charleston Southern scoreless until a dunk by Bowen almost four minutes into the game. But that sparked a 13-1 run that included three straight treys by Will Saunders and Sheldon Strickland.

The Bears answered with nine straight points to take the lead for good. Jefferson started it with a nice spin move inside and capped it with a pair of free throws to put Baylor on top, 18-13, with 10:43 left in the half.

Franklin fed Jefferson for a slam dunk that pushed the lead to 24-16, but the Bears turned it over twice with a chance to extend the lead to double digits. Shut out for almost 16 minutes, Charleston Southern point guard and leading scorer Saah Nimley drained a pair of 3-pointers and two free throws, helping the Buccaneers get to halftime trailing by just four, 32-28.

"He's lightning-quick, so I had to stay a couple steps back," Franklin said of the 5-8 Nimley, who did a pretty good Pierre Jackson impersonation. "He can shoot it well, but I had to treat him like how guys guard (Boston Celtics point guard Rajon) Rondo. You've got to kind of play a little bit in the paint to keep him out of the paint. Guarding Pierre Jackson over the years helped me. But other than that, I was just hoping he wasn't trying to get to the basket."

More times than not, when Charleston Southern guards penetrated, Austin and Jefferson were there waiting for them.

"We probably tried to attack Isaiah a time or two too many," Radebaugh said. "But it's a natural instinct when a guard does a great job of penetrating and dishes to one of our post players. Usually at the mid-major level, that's a dunk or a layup for us. But he did a great job of staying home and using his length to affect us. If we make four of those six shots, we win; and I think three of them that were dunks that he did a great job of blocking."

Brady Heslip hit three 3-pointers and scored 11 points for the Bears, while Chery chipped in with four points, five assists, three boards, two blocks, a pair of steals and only one turnover in 33 minutes. Saunders and Strickland each hit four 3-pointers and combined for 30 points for a Buccaneers team that shot just 34.9 percent from the field.

"It's tough, because they have four or five guards playing out there," Drew said. "Defensively, for us to hold them to 34 percent was tremendous. And we did a great job on the glass (44-28 rebounding edge). . . . This team was averaging 99 points; and to hold them to 64 is pretty good."

The Bears will leave Friday morning for an eight-hour flight to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. Baylor opens against Chaminade (2-0) at 8:30 p.m. CDT Monday in a game that will be televised by ESPNU. Dayton-Gonzaga is the other first-round matchup in Baylor's half of the bracket, with Arkansas playing California and Minnesota taking on Syracuse in the top half of the draw.

Here is a link to the boxscore from Wednesday's Baylor-Charleston Southern men's basketball game.