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200 THE HARD WAY: Bears Struggle to Put Away TCU in 1st Round, 76-68

March 13, 2014

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Scott Drew wanted his 200th win at Baylor to be a little easier than this.

And for the first four minutes, he looked like he was going to get his wish, with the Bears streaking out to a 15-3 start that included a pair of 3-pointers by Brady Heslip, a trey by Royce O'Neale and a couple signature dunks from Cory Jefferson.

Whether it was TCU ratcheting it up, or Baylor letting its guard down, the Horned Frogs made the Bears earn this one. Isaiah Austin scored five of his 18 points in the closing minutes as Baylor avoided a monumental upset with a 76-68 win in Wednesday's opening round of the Big 12 Championship.

"(I'm) happy with the win; disappointed with how we defended from the last five minutes of the first half through the second half," said Drew, who is 200-148 in his 11 seasons at Baylor and one shy of Bill Henderson's school-record win total. "We weren't nearly as good as we've been nor need to be. But at the end of the day, we got the win, which is important. . . . Our guys are happy with the win, but know that we have to play better and look forward to having that opportunity tomorrow."

After winning eight of their last nine and boosting their NCAA Tournament resume to the point where the Bears (22-10) are now a No. 8 or 9 seed, they will face second-seeded and 17th-ranked Oklahoma (23-8) in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Thursday.

"We want to come out with a different mindset and just be aggressive," said junior point Kenny Chery, who had an off night shooting and finished with five points and five assists. "Now, everything counts. You lose, and you go home."

Going home wasn't even a thought on Wednesday, especially when Baylor got out to an early 15-3 lead on a TCU team (9-22) that was winless in Big 12 play this season. In the four previous games since the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12 last season, the Bears had won by an average margin of 24 points.

"At the end of the day, we're all human," Drew said. "We had two big-margin wins against them; you get a big lead. And I probably did a bad job not keeping us focused and intense. So, I'll do a better job tomorrow."

Drew also blamed himself for rotating "a little bit more than I've been doing in the last couple of games," trying to get the players rest for a possible four-day, four-game run.

"Credit them. I thought they made big shots, a lot of shot-clock baskets," he said. "And then we had some opportunities to get some rebounds that they made great hustle plays and came up with them, or we didn't secure them. We'll have to watch film and see why we didn't get more of those rebounds that were critical to extend the lead."

Even at the five-minute mark of the first half, the Bears seemed to be cruising. O'Neale, who posted his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds, followed up a missed layup by Jefferson and gave Baylor a seemingly comfortable 32-16 lead.

But with Jarvis Ray scoring six of his 17 points in those closing minutes, TCU went on an 11-4 run and got it to single digits before a Chery 3-pointer that put the Bears up 39-27 at the break.

"I think we took it easy," Chery said. "We didn't keep up our aggressiveness."

Preying on TCU's lack of size inside - the Horned Frogs had just one player taller than 6-6 - Baylor scored four straight buckets in the paint and took a 47-30 lead on an Austin layup off a feed from O'Neale early in the second half.

The Bears used their massive size advantage to dominate the boards, 39-22, and outscore the Frogs, 48-24, on points in the paint.

"That's just something we know we're supposed to do as a Baylor basketball program, especially offensively," said Jefferson, who recorded his fifth double-double in the last eight games and 12th of the season with 20 points and 10 rebounds. "We pride ourselves on offensive rebounds."

Jefferson scored his last points of the night with 8:36 left, when he hit a short jumper off another O'Neale assist, giving the Bears a 65-49 lead.

Still, the pesky Frogs wouldn't go away.

TCU scored six unanswered points and went on 14-4 run, closing to within 69-63 on a steal and slam dunk by Ray with 2:34 left in the game.

"They are a bunch of guys that never stopped fighting, never stopped playing, never stopped trying to get better," TCU coach Trent Johnson said. "And that's a pretty good tribute."

Even though Baylor has dominated the series, O'Neale said he knew the Horned Frogs "were going to fight till the very end."

"Them coming back was just a challenge for us to stay composed and keep battling till the end."

Austin took a little wind out of TCU's sails when he drove inside and was fouled by 6-2 Thomas Montigel, completing a three-point play and stretching the lead back to nine. After another layup by Austin, O'Neale closed the door with another offensive board and put-back that gave the Bears a 10-point cushion with only 34 seconds remaining.

"You know what, we understand what a great league it is," Drew said. "To win and advance in the Big 12 tournament is something that I know these players will remember a lifetime. The most important part is to survive and advance. And we did that tonight."

Next up is a matchup against an Oklahoma team that swept the Bears this season, winning a close one in Waco, 66-64, and then hitting 14 3-pointers in an 88-72 victory last month in Norman.

"The last time we faced them, they might have had 13 (3-pointers) by halftime," said Drew, only slightly exaggerating the Sooners' 11-of-18 shooting behind the arc in taking a 43-35 lead at the break. "So, we're going to have to do a much better job stopping their 3's."

OU has hit a conference-best 261 treys and is tied with Iowa State for the league lead with 82.5 points per game. Sophomore guard Buddy Hield leads the way with 16.8 points per game and 86 3-pointers, but all five starters average nearly double figures and can hit from long distance.

"We've just got to close out," O'Neale said. "We've got to run them off the 3-point line, make them take tough shots, contest each and every shot."

In Wednesday's other opening-round game, eighth-seeded Oklahoma (21-11) may have punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with an 80-62 win over No. 9 seed Texas Tech.

The Baylor-Oklahoma winner advances to the semifinals against the winner of Thursday's late quarterfinal that pits third-seeded Texas (22-9) against sixth-seeded West Virginia (17-14).

"We'll be a different team tomorrow, I guarantee you that," said Heslip, who missed his last five shots and finished with just six points. "I feel like we got sloppy and didn't execute like we have been. We didn't play our best game, but thankfully we won and got it out of our system."

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

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