Baylor’s Gary Franklin squared his shoulders, composed himself and stared at the basket as he thought about the shot he was about to take. Then he launched the basketball high into the air and everyone at Bramlage Coliseum turned to see the result.
Standard procedure for a free throw, right? Well, this was a three-pointer.
The Kansas State defense was so out of position while trying to defend the Bears that at one point in the second half, Franklin had ample space and time to shoot. He couldn’t take advantage, missing hard off the back rim, but the ball ended up in the hands of teammate Royce O’Neal, who fought past five K-State players for the rebound.
Perhaps that sequence best illustrates the kind of day it was for the Wildcats, who lost 76-74 on Saturday. Everything appeared to be going their way at halftime, when they led 33-25, but the game spiraled away from there, ending a 15-game home winning streak on senior day.
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“It has been a heck of a ride for our group,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “Here at home we have won some huge games and played with great energy and passion. Today we just didn’t have it. We woke up a sleeping bear a couple weeks ago when they beat us at their place in a crazy game.”
In many ways, this result mirrored Baylor’s victory over K-State last month in Waco. The Wildcats led by nine at halftime in that game and lost in double overtime.
Once again, Kenny Chery was the hero, scoring 29 points. The Baylor junior guard made 8 of 13 shots, but he did most of his damage at the free throw line, making 13 of 14 foul shots. Add on six assists and three steals, and he had a stat line that rivaled his triple-double against K-State in the first meeting.
Cory Jefferson hurt K-State inside, scoring 16 points. But the Bears got contributions from all over. They dominated the second half, and closed out the game by making 17 straight free throws.
The Bears have the talent to beat anyone when they are at their best. And for 20 minutes, at least, they looked like the team that climbed into the top 10 in January instead of the team that slumped to a 2-8 start in the Big 12. By contrast, K-State reverted back to its early season form.
“I don’t think they let up,” Jefferson said. “We switched it over after the second half and came out there and did what we were supposed to do, mainly on the defensive end. We got our stops when we needed them.”
The game turned early in the second half when Baylor forward Isaiah Austin went to the bench after picking up his third foul. K-State led 37-25 at the time, but the Bears reeled off a 21-8 run to take a 46-45 lead behind the inside duo of Rico Gathers.
Austin is a finesse big who prefers to play on the perimeter. Gathers likes to bang down low, and he attacked the rim. With Jefferson at his side, K-State struggled to adjust. When it clamped down inside, shooters were wide open on the perimeter. It faced a deficit the rest of the way.
Baylor went on to lead by as much as 10 points. With its zone defense causing problems, K-State struggled to fight back.
“I feel like we let up on the defensive side,” said junior forward Thomas Gipson, who had 16 points and seven rebounds. “They started isolating Cory Jefferson and he started getting fouls and free throws. That gave them confidence. Once they got the ball rolling it was hard for us to stop.”
Added Weber: “I wish I would have had something else to help them, maybe a better zone offense, something to help make a difference.”
Still, Marcus Foster almost led K-State back. The freshman guard made seven three-pointers on his way to 29 points. He was unstoppable in the final five minutes, making five threes and pulling K-State to within one possession several times. Nino Williams came through with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
With Baylor making its free throws, the comeback didn’t materialize. But the Bears flirted with disaster in the closing second, when they threw the ball the length of the floor and out of bounds with a 76-74 lead. For a moment, it appeared K-State would get the ball under its own goal with a shot at a game-winning shot. But replays showed Franklin touched the ball on its way out. The Wildcats were left with .3 seconds to get the ball up court and score.
The game was over.
“I feel bad for the seniors,” Weber said. “It’s disappointing.”
With the win, Baylor (21-10, 9-9) has won seven of eight. It has dramatically improved its NCAA Tournament chances in the past month.
“I wouldn’t pick against us right now,” Drew said. “Our guys have showed they have some resiliency, some toughness and some heart I am really happy for our guys. To battle back from 2-8, that is hard to do in this league.”
K-State (20-11, 10-8) has lost two straight. It will try to bounce back at the Big 12 Tournament, where it will be the No. 5 seed and face Iowa State in a quarterfinal game on Thursday.
The Wildcats have likely done enough to earn an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, but another loss could leave them on the bubble.
“You want to make sure you don’t have to sit there hoping and praying that all the things go your way,” Weber said. “You have to take care of business on Thursday against Iowa State. That’s all we can do.”