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No. 10 Bears Fight Back to Win 80-70 Over No. 5 Kansas

After trailing 16-4, the Bears came storming back for one of the greatest moments in the Ferrell

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Baylor Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The number one rule when confronting a bear. Don’t hurt it unless you can kill it.

Baylor came into the game injured, without LJ Cryer or Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua. Kansas ran out to a 16-4 lead. Ochai Agbaji was rolling, Christian Braun was smirking, and David McCormack looked like a competent basketball player. It looked like Kansas had killed the Bears.

Then Baylor started to play angry.

“I know our team looked a little bit different at the beginning of the year than they do now, but don’t count these guys out,” Drew said.

The final score of 80-70 for the Baylor Bears (24-5) over the Kansas Jayhawks (23-5) almost underplays how phenomenal a game this was.

At the under-8 timeout of the first half, Drew must have told his guys some form of “Let’s get to the F’ing rim,” because every Bear to touch the ball put their head down, got a shoulder into their defender, and got into the paint to create something for himself or others. That 16-4 deficit shrunk to a mere 32-31 halftime lead for Kansas.

“Yeah, that was definitely a goal today, just get into the paint,” Sochan said. “They were the aggressor in the first game. And in the first 6 minutes they were the aggressor. Then we matched their mentality and their strength, and we just beat them.”

To see that kind of heart and push after things looked so ugly early was gratifying. After seemingly falling too far behind, Baylor was down just 32-31 at half.

As Baylor was making the first half comeback, Flo Thamba, who finished with a team- and career-high 18 points, had 12 of the Bears’ 17 points. Not usually a promising sign.

The poise of the Bears in the second half was incredible. In particular, Jeremy Sochan (17pts, 5 rebs) and Kendall Brown (9 pts, 3 rebs, 3 asts) played with determination and calm, using their size and athleticism to attack defenders, draw fouls, and score in transition. Kansas had no one who could stay in front of those two in the second half. Sochan’s signature moment of the game: a drive in against McCormack off the Thamba screen, laying it in and drawing the foul. He would make the free throw to give Baylor a 68-65 lead.

“Tonight, the key was the green hair,” Drew commented after the game. “Jeremy playing the five against McCormack, he battled him. And at the same time he has an advantage on him on the perimeter. And McCormack guarded Kendall, and Kendall did a good job. Guys being versatile, position less basketball is huge.”

Agbaji (27 pts) tried to keep Kansas in it from the free throw line, but a three by Mayer (9 pts, 12 rebs) to make it 71-66.

Braun (17 pts, 10 rebs) would answer on the other end with a layup to keep it a single possession game, but Adam Flagler (13 pts, 6 rebs, 3 asts) answered with the jumper, and Baylor again had a two possession lead and got the stop with less than 90 seconds remaining.

The dagger: James Akinjo (12 pts, 6 asts) drove in on Harris as the stadium thundered like a Space-X missile launch, and he finished the and-one. Baylor took a 76-68 lead, KU relinquished the ball the next possession, and Baylor had sealed yet another victory over a top 10 team in the Scott Drew era.

Drew noted the energy that the crowd gave the team at the start of the game, and he rightly praised them. Tonight’s game had the ineffable feel of a big-time game. The sound, the energy, the sway of the student section, the record 10, 628 in attendance. Sublime. The signature moment of Ferrell Center fandom should go down as the foot-stomping thunder before the Akinjo and-one dagger. I’ve been to a lot of big games in the Ferrell, including earlier this season for the top 5 beatdown against Villanova. There’s never been a moment like those three seconds of deep, resonant thundering during live action.

“I was just finishing my breakfast, like coach says,” Thamba described after the game. Especially with Tchamwa-Tchatchoua out, he said, he feels an added responsibility to play with force and energy. Drew also commented that as roommates with Tchamwa-Tchatchoua, Thamba feels the emotional urgency to pick up the slack. Tonight, the team couldn’t have won without him.

And on a day when 6 of the top 9 have lost (and Gonzaga is down 15 to St. Mary’s at half as of this writing), you’ll take it however you can get it.

There are no guarantees in college basketball. Three of those top 10 teams lost to unranked opponents, something that made Baylor fans ready to call it a season earlier in the year. That Baylor could be down double-figures just minutes into the game against the team that boat-raced them at the start of the month and not only mount a comeback, but stare that team in the eye for an entire half before pulling away for a 10-point win — that’s special stuff.

When Kansas was out on a 16-4 lead, it looked like we were in for a repeat of the game in Lawrence. Kansas was getting good looks from outside and finding ways to get the ball around the rim. When it was 24-13 and most of Baylor’s point were coming from Thamba. Baylor’s big man had 12 of the first 17 points for the Bears. Baylor was 0-6 from three. Things were grim.

Then slowly, Baylor crept back into the game, almost before the crowd could notice. A Flagler layup after a phenomenal defensive possession, and it was 28-21. At that moment, the crowd woke up. Kansas had Agbaji, Braun, and McCormack all on the bench, and it was a quick 6-0 run for Baylor.

Now with the crowd roaring, a Bonner drive and drop to Sochan for the dunk, that led to a Sochan block on the other end that led to a Flagler leaning layup around Jalen Wilson brought Baylor within three. The run had stretched to 10 and the score was just 28-25. Baylor’s defense had held Kansas scoreless for 3 minutes as Agbaji, Braun, and McCormack rested.

To see that kind of heart and push after things looked so ugly early was gratifying. After seemingly falling too far behind, Baylor was down just 32-31 at half.

Tonight’s win brings Baylor just a half game back from Kansas for first in the conference. Texas Tech, who lost to a TCU team that Baylor handed it to earlier in the week, is no 1.5 games back, technically still in it, but likely out. If Kansas wins out (and with two games against TCU and a home game against Texas, that is very possible), the conference title is there’s again. Baylor can only take care of their business, though, and that’s to face the Texas Longhorns in Austin on Monday before the regular season finale in Waco against Iowa State, who will bookend Baylor’s conference schedule.

Win those games, and the Bears have a shot to repeat.

Today, Kansas learned what many top ten teams have learned recently against Baylor: don’t corner an injured Bear.