New York • Tuesday’s National Invitation Tournament semifinal game was right there for the taking for the BYU Cougars.
Instead, Baylor guard Pierre Jackson took it from them, scoring seven straight points during crunch time to push the Bears into the NIT championship game on Thursday night, and the Cougars into their surprisingly delayed offseason regrouping.
Score it 76-70 for Baylor in front of a sparse crowd at Madison Square Garden and a national television audience, as BYU dropped to 24-12 and failed to win at least 25 games in a season for the first time in seven years.
“I thought [Baylor] was just terrific down the stretch,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “They made every big play they needed to make.”
And BYU didn’t, but the Cougars did come close after falling behind by 11 points with 2:17 remaining. Matt Carlino hit three 3-pointers in a row to make amends for what to that point was a miserable shooting night, and the Cougars were within three, 71-68, with 44 seconds left.
Jackson, who finished with 24 points and 10 assists, wouldn’t miss free throws, however, and the Bears (22-14) held on for their third straight win over BYU in the last two seasons.
“I’m just really proud of our guys on how we fought back from being 11 down and got it to a one-possession game,” Rose said.
Before Jackson’s scoring spurt the game had been tied 15 times and the lead had changed hands 10 times. The Cougars were overcoming a below-average outing from Brandon Davies (13 points, five rebounds), little contribution from Brock Zylstra (two points on 1-of-5 shooting) with perhaps Nate Austin’s best game as a Cougar (nine points, 11 rebounds) and the usual solid performance from Tyler Haws (25 points on 9-of-15 shooting).
Then it ended.
“It’s just tough that we weren’t able to make the plays we needed to down the stretch,” Haws said, eerily similar to statements the Cougars made in close regular-season losses to Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and San Diego.
Jackson’s personal 7-0 run, taking the Baylor lead from 57-54 to 64-54, was the clincher for the Bears, but the game had swung to the No. 2 seed’s favor a few minutes before that.
Carlino hit a 3-pointer with around 7:41 left to tie it at 52-52, but Baylor’s Cory Jefferson (21 points) got free 15 seconds later for a dunk and was fouled by Davies, the BYU senior’s fourth. Haws missed a tough 14-footer, and BYU got a defensive stop, but Haws was then called for an offensive foul along the sideline in front of the Baylor bench while trying to bring the ball upcourt.
“Yeah, stuff like that happens in the game, and you just have to pick yourself up and keep playing,” Haws said.
After Carlino’s trey, the Cougars went the next eight possessions without making a field goal, a drought reminiscent of the one they had in the first half at Baylor on Dec. 21 that led to a 79-64 Bears win. Carlino finished 5 of 14 from 3-point range.
“We went multiple possessions during that stretch where I thought we got good looks at the basket, and we just didn’t convert,” Rose said.
The 11-point cushion Baylor had “saved me a little hair until Carlino started hitting threes from halfcourt,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said.
All told, the Cougars shot just 37.9 percent (11 of 29) in the second half, though, and saw their postseason run come to a quick end.
“This is a very difficult matchup for us because of their size inside and their quickness on the guard line,” Rose said. “But the effort the last three or four weeks from our team has just been terrific, and these guys have given us everything that we’ve asked for as a [coaching] staff.”
O In Short • BYU keeps it close for the first 32 minutes against Baylor, but a five-minute field-goal drought dooms the Cougars to an NIT semifinal loss at Madison Square Garden.
Key Moment • Baylor’s Pierre Jackson scores seven straight points to stretch a two-point lead to nine in the second half.
Baylor 76, BYU 70
BYU (24-12) • Zylstra 1-5 0-0 2, Austin 3-6 3-4 9, Davies 4-11 5-9 13, Haws 9-15 7-7 25, Carlino 7-20 0-0 19, Cusick 0-0 0-0 0, Calvert 1-2 0-0 2, Kaufusi 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-60 15-20 70.
BAYLOR (22-14) • Walton 4-8 2-2 10, Jefferson 8-11 5-7 21, Austin 5-12 3-5 14, Heslip 0-5 0-0 0, Jackson 6-14 9-10 24, Gathers 0-2 0-0 0, Franklin 1-6 0-0 3, Bello 0-0 0-0 0, Prince 2-2 0-0 4. Totals 26-60 19-24 76.
Halftime—Baylor 35-33. 3-Point Goals—BYU 5-20 (Carlino 5-14, Calvert 0-1, Haws 0-1, Zylstra 0-4), Baylor 5-15 (Jackson 3-5, Austin 1-1, Franklin 1-5, Heslip 0-4). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—BYU 40 (Austin 11), Baylor 33 (Austin 10). Assists—BYU 9 (Carlino 5), Baylor 16 (Jackson 10). Total Fouls—BYU 22, Baylor 19. A—NA.