KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Baylor’s shocking new neon uniforms seemed to send waves of electricity throughout the entire team.
Nobody received a bigger jolt than Perry Jones III.
After missing last year’s Big 12 tournament, Jones played like an All-American, exploding for a career-high 31 points and pulling down 11 rebounds to propel the No. 12 Bears to an 82-74 win over Kansas State.
The 18,972 fans at the Sprint Center saw Jones unveil every facet of his game as he made head-spinning moves to the basket, pulled up for picture-perfect jumpers and even buried two treys in the Bears’ riveting quarterfinal win Thursday afternoon.
This was the Perry Jones that people have been waiting to see after he was selected as the preseason Big 12 player of the year.
“I say all the time that Perry is the best player in the nation, and he showed it,” Baylor guard Pierre Jackson said. “Once he got his mind set right, he was hard to stop, and I hope he can keep it up. I’d like to see him perform like that every night.”
Jones was suspended from last year’s Big 12 tournament after he learned shortly before the first game that the NCAA had ruled him ineligible for accepting illegal benefits before he played at Baylor. The Bears looked dispirited and out of sync as they dropped an 84-67 decision to Oklahoma.
“My teammates reminded me when I got on the plane,” Jones said. “They all gave me a round of applause for being able to show up here and being able to play in this tournament. It definitely motivated me that I didn’t play last year. I wanted to come in playing aggressive.”
After an erratic regular season in which he sometimes struggled in Baylor’s biggest games, Jones came out on fire as he hit all eight field goals in a 21-point first half to spark the Bears to a 45-36 lead.
The 6-11 sophomore continued his brilliant play in the second half, and finished with 11-of-14 field goals, 7-of-9 free throws and two blocked shots.
“I guess I was just in a zone,” Jones said. “I was looking to be aggressive and more assertive. My teammates got me the ball in the right positions, and they encouraged me to take shots I don’t normally take. They told me to do it like I do in practice.”
Jones’ dominating performance sent the fourth-seeded Bears (26-6) to the semifinals against top-seeded Kansas (27-5) at 6:30 tonight. The Jayhawks blew away Texas A&M, 83-66, in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
When they came out on the court, the Bears unveiled their electric new Adidas uniforms that they’ll wear throughout the postseason. The neon yellow uniforms with a hint of camouflage were quite a shock after the Bears wore traditional green and gold uniforms throughout the regular season.
Even the Baylor players were stunned by the brightness of the new uniforms.
“I’m not really a fan of the brightness, but we won our first game against a good defensive Kansas State team,” Baylor guard A.J. Walton said. “So I’m all for it now.”
One thing was certain — the Bears had no trouble finding their teammates.
“Maybe it was the uniforms,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We saw who we were passing to.”
After splitting two regular season games against the fifth-seeded Wildcats (21-10), Baylor took command of Thursday’s game late in the first half and continued to build the lead throughout the second half.
While Jones grabbed most of the attention, everybody got into the act for the Bears as they shot 56.9 percent and controlled the boards, 32-26, against a physical Kansas State team.
Brady Heslip buried a pair of treys and made some superb moves to the basket to score 15 points, while Jackson collected 13 points and eight assists. Walton came off the bench to score 11 points and led the defense with four steals, and Quincy Acy finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
“Perry gave everybody a lift and made it easier for players like me, Pierre and Brady to get open,” Walton said. “We have to stress to Perry to shoot the ball and stay in attack mode, and he did that today. He played well and it flowed.”
Jackson set the tone by hitting Jones with an alley-oop pass for a dunk to start the game, and he scored 14 of Baylor’s first 23 points. But the Wildcats stayed close behind the play of forward Jordan Henriquez, who finished with a career-high 22 points and 14 rebounds.
With the game tied at 27, the Bears got a lift from Heslip as he drove for a basket, drew a foul and hit the free throw to complete a three-point play. Following a Walton steal, Heslip nailed a trey to give the Bears a 33-27 edge with 5:47 left in the first half.
The Bears kept pushing as Quincy Miller drove for a basket and Jones twice grabbed rebounds and scored. Walton buried an outside shot before Jackson drove for a basket with two seconds remaining to give the Bears a 45-36 halftime lead.
With his 21-point outburst, Jones scored almost half of Baylor’s first-half points.
“Perry is one guy I think our whole staff and team felt really good that he had a great game,” Drew said. “Throughout the year, he’s received a lot of negativity, and he’s a positive kid. He’s one of those guys that the more you build him up, the better he is. He was feeling good going into the game, and credit his teammates for giving him the ball and doing a good job.”
The Wildcats pulled within five at the start of the second half before the Bears went on an 11-2 run to open up a 64-50 lead.
Walton started the streak with an outside shot before Jackson and Acy slipped inside for baskets. Acy then stole the ball for a breakaway layup and drew a foul from Rodney McGruder. He hit the free throw to complete a three-point play.
When Jackson threw an alley-oop pass to Jones for a dunk, the Bears stretched their lead to 14 points with 10:51 remaining.
The Jones show was far from over as he buried a trey before setting his personal scoring high on perhaps his most athletic play of the night. He drove into the lane and flipped the ball left-handed into the basket while drawing a foul from Henriquez.
Jones hit the free throw to give the Bears a 75-61 lead with 5:44 remaining.
“Perry was motivated by not playing in the tournament last season, and he came out a monster,” Acy said. “We know he can do that and that’s what we expect on the court. It gives everyone confidence and the freedom to say, ‘Let’s go.’ ”
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