AUSTIN — That road to the NCAA tournament that looked so clear and wide open for Baylor a month ago is looking more like a dead end.
With Sheldon McClellan scoring 23 points and Ioannis Papapetrou hitting 18, Texas pulled away in the final minutes for a 79-70 win over the Bears in an ESPN “Big Monday” game at the Frank Erwin Center.
After winning five of their first six Big 12 games, the Bears have lost eight of the last 11. Now 17-13 overall and 8-9 in the Big 12, the Bears are below .500 in league play for the first time heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale against Big 12-leading Kansas.
“It’s real frustrating because we want to win every game,” Baylor guard Gary Franklin said. “There are some of those we should have won and that’s pretty devastating.”
After a gut-wrenching 64-61 loss at the buzzer to Kansas State on Saturday at the Ferrell Center, the Bears rebounded with a strong effort against the Longhorns (14-16, 6-11). Pierre Jackson buried four treys and scored 22 points while Isaiah Austin hit 15.
But the Bears shot just 40.4 percent while hitting nine of 23 treys.
“They gave us some 3s, but we would have liked more baskets in the paint,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “They made it much tougher for us to finish than the first time. Unfortunately, we didn’t do a good enough job defensively.”
Texas hit 50 percent from the field and put the game away with free throws in the closing minutes. Myck Kabongo collected 19 points and eight assists for Texas after missing Baylor’s 86-79 overtime win over the Longhorns on Jan. 5 at the Ferrell Center due to a suspension for receiving improper benefits.
“Down the stretch, Kabongo was the difference from our first game with them,” Drew said. “He did a great job running the team and got them some open looks. When you’ve got a great point guard, it helps things.”
Rallying from an eight-point deficit, the Bears took their first lead of the second half at 57-56 when Cory Jefferson blocked a shot and passed downcourt to Deuce Bello for a layup with 5:22 to play.
The lead didn’t last long as Papapetrou glided downcourt for a layup. After Jackson missed a free throw, Papapetrou drilled a 3-pointer to stretch Texas’ lead to 61-57 with 4:17 remaining.
Cameron Ridley then rebounded and threw down a vicious slam to stretch Texas’ lead to 63-57 with 3:11 remaining.
Baylor battles back
The Bears kept battling as Austin buried a trey and Bello threw down a dunk. But Julien Lewis nailed a trey for the Longhorns to open up a 70-64 lead with 1:44 remaining.
Texas pulled away in the closing minutes by hitting seven of eight free throws.
Leading 36-34 at halftime, the Longhorns quickly stretched it to 41-34 as Papapetrou hit an outside shot and then buried a trey when he hustled downcourt after blocking Jackson’s drive to the basket.
With Kabongo’s 3-pointer, Texas pushed its lead to 44-36.
But the Bears fought back as Rico Gathers scored three times inside and Franklin drilled a trey to cut the Longhorns’ lead to 44-43. Following another Papapetrou basket, Jackson answered with a trey. But McClellan nailed a 3-pointer and Connor Lammert scored inside to extend Texas’ lead to 49-45.
McClellan scored twice for the Longhorns but Jackson nailed a trey and Austin drove inside for a basket, drew a foul and hit the free throw to cut Texas’ lead to 55-53 with 7:35 remaining.
Jackson then tied the game when he drilled an outside shot with 6:55 remaining.
With Jackson scoring 13 points and hitting three treys, the Bears went into halftime trailing 36-34.
Kabongo and McClellan hit 10 points apiece while Jonathan Holmes nailed a trey with 12 seconds left in the half to give the Longhorns the lead.
The Bears got off to a hot start as Jackson hit Jefferson for a dunk and then buried a trey to take a 9-5 lead. But Kabongo drove into the lane three times for baskets to give Texas a 12-10 edge.