Baylor came about as close to its first win in Lawrence as it could.
After an abysmal start to the first half, the Baylor Bears roared back in the final 15 minutes of the game to lose 70-67 to the Kansas Jayhawks with a chance to take a tying shot on the final possession.
Starting at the 16:35 mark of the second half, Baylor went on a 12-3 run to bring the game to a 45-47 Jayhawk advantage with 11:16 on the clock. Nuni Omot took over on offense, making a layup and 7 free throws over the next five minutes — which included a Jo Lual-Acuil dunk — to give Baylor its first lead of the game 56-54 with 5:36 remaining. Following a Devonte’ Graham layup, King McClure hit a three-pointer following a Jake Lindsey offensive board to make the score 59-54 Bears. Baylor got a stop the next possession, then Lindsey found Acuil running the floor to earn a 61-56 lead.
Then Malik Newman, a former 5-star recruit, took over. He went on a personal 9-5 run to give Kansas a 68-67 lead that stuck. Baylor couldn’t score in the final 2:51 of the game, failing to hit two reasonable shots and poorly executing a perhaps too cute inbound play to end the game.
This game started badly for the Bears. Kansas drained its first 7 shots from the field, including 4 threes and a roaring diving slam from Mykhailiuk. Baylor’s defense was scrambled, with shots coming open on the perimeter and at the rim. Drew took two timeouts in the first 5 minutes in an attempt to calm his players, who did eventually settle in on both ends. The Bears briefly drew the game back to a 5 point gap with a Jake Lindsey tip in at 9:32.
The rest of the half wobbled between a 6 and 11 point differential until half.
Offensively, Baylor struggled. The Bears shot a miserable 30% from the field. The lone bright spot was on the offensive glass, where Baylor managed to collect 7 boards.
Acuil lead the Bears with a 14-10 stat line. Omot had his best conference game of the season and a phenomenal second half to finish with 14 point on 4 field goal attempts, 1-1 from three and 7-7 from the free throw line. Manu Lecomte struggled from deep (1-8) but managed to find his shot down the stretch with a couple of free throw line jumpers as a part of Baylor’s valiant run.
Baylor’s defense, after struggling in the opening minutes, was sturdy in the half court, although Udoka Azubuike used his significant strength advantage to earn deep post position for easy baskets. It was in transition — especially off Baylor misses — that Kansas earned its points. In the open floor, Newman and Graham found their way to the rim once their shot stopped falling from deep. Newman finished with a game-high 24 points on 7-11 shooting with a perfect 7-7 from the line.
The tempo of the game suited Baylor, who controlled the tenor of the game from about 10 minutes left in the first half right up until the final three minutes of the game. Baylor showed great toughness in a loss, but the losses keep mounting. No one could count on Baylor taking a road win in Lawrence, but the pressure is growing on the Bears to earn more conference wins in an effort to make a fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
Baylor’s next game will be at home on Monday against Kansas State, a must win for Baylor.