KANSAS CITY, Mo. MaCio Teague scored 24 points, Davion Mitchell added 23 and second-ranked Baylor held on to beat Kansas State 74-68 on Thursday and avoid what would have been one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Big 12 Tournament.
The top-seeded Bears (22-1) rolled into T-Mobile Arena after their first regular-season conference title since 1950, three straight wins over ranked teams and with a No. 1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament nearly locked up.
Yet the Wildcats (9-20), who lost their two regular-season games to Baylor by an average of 40 points, never allowed the high-powered Bears to slip away. The plucky bunch of kids kept answering baskets until the final minute. Freshman Nijel Pack‘s sixth 3-pointer got them within 70-66 with just over a minute to go.
Mitchell missed at the other end, but Kansas State couldn’t capitalize when Mike McGuirl threw a wild pass that Pack batted into the air. The Bears came down with the loose ball and Jared Butler made a couple of free throws to seal the win.
It sent Baylor into a semifinal matchup with No. 12 Oklahoma State on Friday night.
Butler finished with 18 points. Along with Teague and Mitchell, the trio scored all but nine of the Bears’ points.
Pack finished with 18 points, as did Davion Bradford, as the ninth-seeded Wildcats lost their ninth straight game against the top seed in the Big 12 Tournament. Kansas State had beaten No. 10 seed TCU in the opening round.
Baylor struggled after a late-season, three-week pause because of COVID-19, barely squeaking past Big 12 bottom-dweller Iowa State and losing at Kansas. But the Bears appeared to get their legs and lungs back with an overtime win at West Virginia followed by easy wins over ranked teams Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
They must have lost their mojo again on the way to Kansas City.
The Bears struggled to control the 7-foot Bradford in the paint. They couldn’t track down Pack on the perimeter. They coughed up a dozen turnovers by halftime, and they were slow getting to just about every loose ball.
Kansas State hung around long enough to take a 37-36 lead, its first of the game, on Pack’s 3-pointer out of the break.
The Bears slowly regained control, and when Mitchell answered Pack’s fifth 3 with one of his own and Teague converted a three-point play moments later they finally had some breathing room for the first time.
Kansas State had the second-most starts by freshmen in the country behind Kentucky, and it showed during a 13-game losing streak amid a 5-18 start. But the Wildcats may have been the most improved team in the league down the stretch, winning four of five, capped by their win over TCU in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament.
Baylor struggled to handle Kansas big man David McCormack in its lone loss this season, and its inability to deal with post players showed up again Thursday. Bradford is far from polished in the paint, but he managed to get a series of easy points at the the rim, and that should concern coach Scott Drew ahead of the NCAA Tournament.
The Bears will play the red-hot Cowboys on Friday night for a spot in the championship game.