By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
NORMAN, Okla. - Finding themselves down 26-3 in the first eight minutes of Tuesday's game at the Lloyd Noble Center, it would have been easy for the 19th-ranked Baylor Bears to throw in the towel and check out.
Not only did they not quit, the Bears used a 13-0 second-half run in a miraculous comeback to take a one-point lead with just under four minutes to go. But just like the Kansas game a week earlier, Baylor couldn't seal the deal.
Silent for most of the second half, Buddy Hield hit a driving layup and a pair of free throws in a 6-0 run as sixth-ranked Oklahoma pulled out a 73-71 win before a sellout crowd of 11,563 on hand for Senior Night and Blake Griffin's jersey retirement.
"I was proud of our comeback," said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team fell to 21-9 overall and 10-7 in the Big 12. "A lot of teams would have given up or not come back or divided. Credit the leadership of our players to keep everybody focused, composed and keep them confident. What had gotten us the lead was transition, and we stopped pushing when we got the lead. And (OU's) offensive rebounds really hurt us."
A pair of offensive rebounds off missed 3-pointers by Hield led to Isaiah Cousins' go-ahead jumper with 2:27 left. And then Hield grabbed an offensive board and drove in for the layup that made it 71-68.
The Bears still had a chance in the final seconds when Hield missed the front end of a one-and-one after a King McClure layup that made it 73-70. Following a smart foul by Ryan Spangler with 2.4 seconds left, eliminating the possibility of a tying 3-pointer, Hield came up with the loose ball after Taurean Prince intentionally missed the second free throw.
"Being that it's the Big 12, anything can happen at any time," Prince said of a game that saw Baylor dominate the second half after being dominated in the first. "At halftime, we told ourselves that we were going to pick it up in the second half, which we did. But we still lost, so all of that is irrelevant."
The comeback fell short, but it showed the character of a Baylor team that has lost to a pair of top-10 teams in the last week.
"No one likes being close and losing," Drew said. "But I think if you look, we're playing better basketball now than we did at the beginning of conference and in the middle of conference. As a coach, you want to peak this time of the year, so I'm proud of how we're starting to play better basketball. There are some things we can definitely still get better at, like 16 turnovers. For us to do what we need to do, that needs to be single digits. And then you can't win a close game on the road shooting 9-for-18 from the free throw line."
Other than Al Freeman's fade-away jumper in the opening minute, the start of this game couldn't have gone much worse.
Hield scored 13 of his game-high 23 points in the first eight minutes, with OU hitting nine of its first 13 shots and going up 26-3 on his back-to-back 3-pointers.
While his teammates were struggling, connecting on just 5-of-19 shot from the field, Prince made 4-of-8 in the first half and scored 11 points to at least keep the Bears within shouting range. Trailing by as many as 26, Baylor closed the gap to 46-25 at the break when McClure drained a buzzer-beating trey off a deep pass from Ishmail Wainright to Rico Gathers and a sweet dish to the corner.
"That was a heck of a catch by Rico and an even better pass by Ish," said McClure, who scored a career-high 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 beyond the arc. "(Wainright) put it up there where only Rico could get it. And then as a result, I knocked down the shot. But two great passes led to that."
Through the first five minutes, the Bears hadn't even made a dent in the deficit, falling behind 58-34 on a Khadeem Lattin jumper over Gathers. But a pair of OU turnovers helped Baylor reel off 11 unanswered points on 3-pointers by McClure, Prince and Wainright and a driving layup by Prince.
Just like that, the Bears were back in the game at 58-45 with 12:32 still to play.
"We just rallied together and didn't complain about things when they weren't going our way," said Prince, who finished with 17 points and nine rebounds. "We controlled what we could control and started rebounding and taking good shots and getting easies. We started getting stops on defense, and it just translated into offense and got us back in the game."
The Sooners (23-6, 11-6) still had a double-digit lead with under seven minutes remaining before turning it over six times in a 13-0 run by Baylor that turned the game upside down.
McClure and Freeman converted steals into dunks, and then point guard Lester Medford penetrated and dished to Gathers for a layup that brought the Bears back within one, 67-66.
"I feel like we just got stagnant," Hield said. "We didn't have the flow we had in the first half."
After Lattin missed a layup on the other end, Baylor grabbed its first lead since the first minute when Freeman drove inside for a layup that put the Bears on top, 68-67, with 3:50 showing on the clock.
"Coach just kept staying on us and was like, `We can do this! We can do this! We can do this!''' McClure said. "We started believing. And as a result, you saw what happened."
Prince and McClure had 17 points apiece and Freeman 10 for the Bears, while Spangler had a double-double with 15 points, 13 rebounds and five assists for the Sooners.
In its third matchup against a top-10 team in the last two weeks, Baylor closes out the regular season against 10th-ranked West Virginia (22-7, 11-5) at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Ferrell Center, when Gathers, Prince and Medford will be honored on Senior Day.