By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
WACO, Texas - Not sure how much they get into March Madness north of the border, but Baylor fans are prone to start singing “O, Canada.”
The Bears continued their push for the NCAA Tournament with a 74-61 victory over No. 16 Iowa State Tuesday night. Senior Brady Heslip hit (Burlington, Ontario) six 3-pointers in the second half and started a 13-0 game-closing run while junior Kenny Chery (Montreal) had eight points during the decisive run to make Senior Night a happy night.
Baylor (20-10, 8-9) was 2-8 in Big 12 play on Feb. 8 and now is one victory away from a .500 league record. Combined with the ledger the Bears have compiled in the RPI, their NCAA stock would be labeled “buy.”
Ask if Baylor has done enough to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, coach Scott Drew was emphatic.
“Absolutely. No question,” he said. “You can't hold losses against Top 25 teams in the top conference in the country (against us). Minnesota was 8-10 last year. They lost their last three out of four -- and they got in. ... You've got to be thankful for the league's strength and playing in a great league.”
“It was a big-time win for us,” said senior Cory Jefferson, who had 17 of his 21 in the first half. “When we were 2-8, we just knew it wasn’t over.”
A Heslip 3-pointer with just under eight minutes remaining gave Baylor a 57-51 lead but Kane’s final three of the game tied the game at 61-all. The teams traded two empty possessions, with a Naz Long 3-pointer resulting in a fast break.
Heslip was open on the left wing, then he wasn’t open, then he pump faked, slid left and he was open. His 3-pointer was nylon.
“You guys don't know how happy I am right now,” said Heslip, who made three 3s in a span of 1:47 early in the second half. “All I wanted to do was win. I just wanted to leave everything out there so we could win. This was the best feeling I've felt in this gym, no question."
Baylor stated its case against the Cyclones (22-7, 10-7) by disarming two of Iowa State’s three offensive weapons. Senior and presumptive Big 12 player of the year Melvin Ejim and sophomore Georges Niang fired away and rarely connected, combing for 10 points. They were a combined 5-of-25 and missed all nine 3-point attempts.
“We just didn't make shots there in that last four-minute stretch,” said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team committed 14 turnovers, its most since giving it away 18 times at Texas in mid-January. “We have not had too many games where turnovers have hurt us. I thought tonight, they did. And it's just unfortunate that we didn't make the plays down the stretch.”
Niang picked up two fouls and played just three minutes in the first half. His presence in the lane and passing ability usually helps Iowa State’s offense function against zones.
"There’s a lot of obstacles in this game and adversity and I haven’t been doing a good job of fighting through it,” the sophomore said. “That’s my fault and that doesn’t help my team win when I’m not engaged at all times."
Iowa State was the only team in Division I that had scored at least 70 points in every game but the Bears’ zone defense and efficient offense kept the Cyclones from clicking. DeAndre Kane had 17 first-half points and the Cyclones made 12 of 29 3-pointers but were limited to just two fast break points. They ran Baylor ragged in an 87-72 victory in Ames in January.
“They had 46 percent of their points in that game in transition,” Drew said. “We made more shots tonight and didn’t turn it over as much. That kept them from getting fast break chances.”
Iowa State, which dropped out of three-team tie for second place, has lost two consecutive road games and close the regular season at home against surging Oklahoma State, a team it defeated in triple overtime.
"We hit a little wall,” Kane said. “Little boys lay down. Men break through the wall. I think that’s what we’ve got to do."
So far, that’s what Baylor has done.