By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
KANSAS CITY – Win and play on. Lose and go home. That’s March Madness; it’s a bottom-line month.
Baylor closed out the opening round of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship with a 76-68 victory over TCU Wednesday night. The Bears (22-10) will play No. 2 seed Oklahoma in a quarterfinal game at 6 p.m. Thursday.
In the aftermath, there were more questions about the winners and more praise for the losers. Baylor had crushed the Horned Frogs by a combined 59 points in the two meetings so the fact that the Bears weren’t able to breathe a victory sigh until the final minute tempered the fact that coach Scott Drew won his 200th game.
“Just means I’m getting older,” said Drew, who will with his next victory tie Bill Henderson for the most in school history.
“I’m disappointed with how we defended from the last five minutes of the first half through the second half. We weren't nearly as good as we have been or need to be. But at the end of the day we got the win, which is important.”
The Bears jumped to a 15-3 lead in the first four minutes. They maintained a double-digit edge for most of the half, leading by as much as 16 at one point. Baylor, which had a combined 99-43 rebounding edge in the previous two meetings, again controlled the paint and the backboards.
A 39-27 halftime edge grew to a 17-point lead in the first four minutes of the second half but TCU (9-22) refused to fold. The Horned Frogs went on runs of 10-0 and 9-0 to trim the lead to single digits. Each time, Baylor would restore the lead to double digits. Reserve Taurean Prince twice had three-point plays after grabbing offensive rebounds.
“He definitely gave us a lift,” said Baylor senior Cory Jefferson, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds. “He's always the player to come in give us energy on the court, a hustle player. He scored in spurts and that's what the team needs.”
Senior Jarvis Ray’s dunk after a Baylor turnover got TCU to within 69-63 with 2:34 remaining but Isaiah Austin converted a three-point play 33 seconds later.
“We just played harder this game,” said TCU freshman Karviar Shepherd, who scored a career-high 19. “We knew that it was going to be tough for us to come out and just not give it our all on our last game.”
The Horned Frogs close the season with a 19-game losing streak, the longest in Division I. They also had seven scholarship players healthy for the last month of the season. TCU started three freshmen against Baylor. Two reserves – Christian Gore and Thomas Montigel – are walk ons.
Shepherd, at 6-10, is the team’s only post player. Montigel is 6-2 and against the Bears he was often matched up with the 6-10 Jefferson or the 7-1 Austin. Junior guard Kyan Anderson, the team’s leading scorer, played 40 minutes and finished with 17 points and eight assists.
“In athletics, one thing that is real easy to do is quit when you're overmatched and you have a lot of adversity during the course of a season,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said. “And I'm a firm believer that adversity reveals your character. And this is a group that has a lot of character and for the most part they competed their tails off."
“This was a bunch of guys that never stopped fighting, never stopped playing, never stopped trying to get better and really supported each other. And that's a pretty good tribute.”