WACO, Texas — “I think we’re tired of losing one possession games.”
That was Scott Drew’s message to his Baylor Bears (14-5, 3-3) following the thrilling 105-102 triple overtime loss to the TCU Horned Frogs (15-5, 4-3). It’s a game that was a shame to lose, as so many Bears delivered signature games and moments. Senior transfer guard RayJ Dennis finished with 24 points and 10 assists. Star freshman big Yves Missi had a career night with 25 points and 9 rebounds. Freshman guard Ja’Kobe Walter hit what felt like the most significant shot of his collegiate career when he caught the ball, let the defender fly past, and then settled in to send the game into its second overtime. Sophomore Langston Love also had a double-double, with 10 points and as many rebounds, several of which came in huge moments on the offensive end.
But it wasn’t enough, in the end. One too many offensive rebounds allowed to Micah Peavy (18 points, 4 offensive rebounds). Too much room to operate for Jameer Nelson Jr. (30 points, 11-18 FG). Too many open threes for a sniper in Trevian Tennyson (15 points, 4-7 3PT). Not enough resistance inside against Emanuel Miller (21 points).
In the final moments, the game was there. Baylor held a 98-95 lead in the final overtime and inbounded the ball after two made free throws from Tennyson. That was Baylor’s chance to put some real space between them and TCU. Instead, Dennis incurs a backcourt violation and loses that opportunity. They were fortunate to escape a Miller layup on the other end, but Dennis hits only one of two free throws, and it was just a 4-point lead. Next time down the court, following a gorgeous fallaway shot by Tennyson, Nunn also converts just one of two free throws, keeping the game within reach for TCU at 100-97. But perhaps the most harmful waste came when Dennis got big man Ernest Udeh on the switch but lost his dribble trying to make a move. That was two easy points the other way.
In a moment of redemption, Dennis did reclaim the lead 102-101 by spinning around the much larger Miller for a lay-in with 40 seconds left. But on the following possession, Nelson was able to corral his own miss and put it back up for the 103-102 lead.
Baylor ran the same play that got Walter that look from the corner in the first overtime, but a hard closeout forced him to put the ball on the floor, and with less than 2 seconds remaining he was whistled for stepping out of bounds as he initiated his drive. All the Frogs had to do to win was to inbound the ball cleanly. And despite two Bears hitting the floor in apparent push-offs, the whistle went for TCU and Nelson, who iced the game with a pair of free throws that stymied any last hopes of a miracle for the Bears.
The Bears look like a team that, while talented, hasn’t quite figured out how to win in the toughest moments. Senior Jalen Bridges (9 points, 4-10 FG, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) can’t impact the game consistently enough on the offensive end to lead through the times when the offense is dragging. Dennis has the craft but not the burst — and tonight he played 50 minutes and looked spent in final minutes. Walter and Missi are still learning how to consistently impact winning. Both play like opportunists, and the next step for them both is to create their own opportunities and find was to make something out of nothing. Walter hit the big shot, had 15 points and 7 rebounds, went 9-10 from the free throw line, but he had two turnovers while dribbling the ball in the final overtime and was 2-12 from the floor.
Baylor did a lot of things that could have won the game. They out rebounded TCU. They had a +14 advantage in free throw attempts. They moved the ball well and had 21 assists to TCU’s 16. But they surrendered 13 second-chance points and 15 fast-break points to a team that desperately needs those kinds of scrappy baskets to hang in games. The Bears didn’t help themselves shooting the ball, either. They missed 9 free throws, were 5-22 from three, and shot just 48% overall. That team that was the number one offense in the country has found itself in the muck of the Big 12.
“Sometimes you gotta get burned to learn,” Drew said of his team. Whether because they’re young or because they’re adjusting to a level of competition they’ve never known, his players are still learning the tough lessons of what it takes to win in the Big 12.
TCU’s Miller, now in his third year with the Frogs under Jamie Dixon, knows what it takes. “Every single detail leading up to this win matters,” he said afterwards with more energy than anyone who just played 52 minutes of basketball should ever have. “Felt like a March Madness game, and this is January...It ain’t even March,” he said later of the intensity.
He wasn’t wrong. And Baylor needs to find their spark, their edge, and their attention to detail soon. They’ve proven they can make breath-taking plays. Now in a three-game losing streak, can they avoid the costly mistakes that leave everyone windless?