With 24 seconds left on the clock against Kansas State on February 15, Baylor's chances at turning around the 2014 season rested on a razor's edge. Royce O'Neale had just fouled KSU's Marcus Foster down 56-54, and if Foster made both of his free throws, the game would essentially be over. Even if Baylor scored on the following possession, they'd need to foul again and give up more free throws, putting themselves back in the same place with even less time on the clock. The need to foul in the first place arose only because of back-to-back turnovers by junior PG Kenny Chery and senior PF Cory Jefferson on the preceding plays, with Baylor down just two points. Another Baylor loss that would drop them to 15-10 (3-9) seemed definite.
That a home game against Kansas State the day after Valentine's was a must-win for any postseason hopes at all is simultaneously difficult to explain and easy to understand. The season started well enough with Baylor winning 12 of its first 13 games, the lone loss coming in Maui to Syracuse, who would eventually be ranked #1 in the country. When conference play began, Baylor was ranked in the top 10 with expectations sky-high. Eight losses in their first ten Big 12 games later, things had fallen apart completely. Sitting at 14-9 (2-8), Baylor needed as many wins as it could get as quickly as it could get them. A 33-point win over conference doormat TCU put the Bears at 15-9 going into the KSU game at home, but after exactly 99% of that game had been completed, Baylor's hopes rested almost entirely on whether Marcus Foster could hit his free throws.
Foster made the first, putting KSU up 57-54, but missed the second. Baylor still had a chance. Jefferson rebounded the ball close to Baylor's basket and passed to Chery as the clock ticked down from :24. Baylor had apparently spent the timeout just before Foster's free throws working on the play, and Chery brought the ball up the right side of the court. Isaiah Austin set a screen at the top of the key, but KSU covered it well. Chery then drove to his right side (as he often does) to take a 2-point shot with just under :12 to go. Despite having our three best 3-point shooters on the floor in Chery, Brady Heslip, and Gary Franklin, we apparently decided to shoot for 2 and then foul again. Chery's shot missed, but the long rebound caromed away and he was able to save it near our own bench. ~:10. Gary Franklin caught the deflection and took a long three. ~:08. He missed. Jefferson rebounded the shot falling away from the basket and put it back up. ~:04. He missed. Isaiah Austin collected another offensive rebound, the third of this possession, but instead of going for the easy layup that would have probably lost the game, he turned his back on the basket to pass. Whatever the reason, it was an insanely smart basketball decision in a play filled with ones decidedly less so. He rebounded the ball with ~:03 and then slipped or double-clutched (it's hard to tell) before passing to an open Brady Heslip on the 3-point line. As nearly as I can tell, Brady caught the pass with about 1.5 or 1.6 seconds left and managed to release his shot between 1.1 and 1.2. That's fairly incredible. The KSU defender didn't close out in time, and with the red light around the basket having lit up with the ball in flight, Heslip's shot tied the game. Baylor was saved from total ruin by a possession in which they somehow managed to take 4 shots, rebound their own miss 3 times, and then hit a game-tying 3 as time expired. Truly, sometimes it is better to be insanely lucky than good.
If you're reading this, you already know what happens next. Baylor eventually won the game 87-73 after outscoring KSU 19-5 in the second overtime. Kenny Chery racked up the first triple-double of his career with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists, and Baylor snapped its four game home losing streak. The Bears then won 8 of their next 10 games, including 3 in the Big 12 Tournament over TCU, OU, and UT, to earn a #6 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
I firmly believe that if Brady Heslip misses that shot, Isaiah Austin decides not to pass it to him, Cory Jefferson makes his putback, Kenny Chery steps out of bounds before going into the bench, or any number of things happen to make that play end differently, Baylor isn't here right now. Maybe we win a couple of games down the stretch to return a modicum of respectability to the overall season record, but we're certainly not being called a "sleeper" in the NCAA Tournament, nor do we come within 4 minutes of sweeping Big 12 Championships in football, WBB, and MBB in the same year. Ted doesn't make his first or second MBB hype videos, and we're not sitting here talking about playing Nebraska on Friday.
In another universe, that shot either didn't happen at all or missed completely, and the Bears lost again. That universe is a cold, dark place.
Foster makes his first free throw at 1:21:52 in the above video, if you don't want to watch the full game.