If Baylor’s conference opener is any indication of how the rest of the season will go, Baylor fans are in for an exciting ride.
Baylor won its first Big 12 game of the season against Texas with an exhilarating and physical 86-79 overtime victory.
“It’s the start of the Big 12 season, so everybody is going to be physical the whole time,” junior forward Cory Jefferson said. “We just have to prepare for that. We rough each other up every day in practice, so we are going to go out there and give it our best to win.”
And that’s exactly what Jefferson and the Bears did.
After waiting three years to get his chance in the spotlight, Jefferson’s hard work finally paid off. He had a career game with a double-double (25 points and 10 rebounds), two steals, and went 11-14 from the free throw line.
“There are not enough young men out there who are willing to go through the process to become the best player that they can be,” Baylor interim coach Jerome Tang said about Jefferson’s performance today. “Cory Jefferson has bought into it and it is paying off. He is reaping what he has sewn.”
During a press conference yesterday, Baylor players insisted rebounding and defense would be the keys to stopping one of the best defensive teams in the nation, and as soon as they stepped on to the court, the Bears proved they were ready to execute that plan.
“They fought harder for loose balls they rebounded the ball very well,” Texas freshman guard Javan Felix said. “They wanted the 50-50 balls more than we did and that really cost us.”
At the end of the Baylor-dominated first half, Baylor had already recorded 19 rebounds – 15 of them coming defensively. The Baylor defense was also able to hold the Longhorns to a 38.2 shooting percentage from the field, while shooting 44.8% themselves.
“First half I didn’t think we played with the kind of effort Baylor plays with all the time,” Texas head coach Rick Barnes said.
But Texas was able to fight back to tie the game at 46-46 off a jumper from sophomore guard Sheldon McClellan (Texas’ leading scorer). After that, it was a back and forth scoreboard the rest of the half, sending the game into overtime with the teams tied at 68-68.
In overtime, the Bears turned to the person they knew they could trust to close out the game – senior guard Pierre Jackson. For most of the overtime play the ball was in Jackson’s hands. He scored 12 of his 24 total points during overtime.
“We all have our roles, and that’s mine,” Jackson said. “My coaches and teammates have a lot of faith in me. I just go out there to help my team win. Isaiah (Austin) was telling me the whole time to ‘Bring us home.’”
Unfortunately for the Longhorns, they were their own worst enemy. Texas had seven fouls in the overtime period and gave up 12 points from the free throw line (10 out of those 12 points came from Jackson).
“It is disappointing that we fouled too much and we were not able to rebound well enough…” Barnes said.
With a slew of unsuccessful late second half struggles, Baylor was finally able to control the game from start to finish and come out with the win against an opponent who presented no easy obstacles.
“We go through practices preparing for a game situation like that,” Jackson said. “We stayed poised and kept calm and pulled off the win.”
Hopefully for the Bears, this win is just what they needed to prove to themselves that they can still reclaim their season.