Baylor’s Isaiah Austin (7-1, 225), Cory Jefferson (6-9, 220) and Rico Gathers (6-8, 270) combined for 33 points and 22 rebounds as the Bears handed the Cowboys their first loss inside Gallagher-Iba Arena this season. Gathers contributed 14 points and six rebounds, Jefferson finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds, and Austin added eight points and three rebounds.
The Cowboys are now 4-4 without post player Michael Cobbins, who was lost for the season with an Achilles injury on Dec. 30. They have now lost two in a row and three of their last four to fall to 16-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big 12. Baylor broke a five-game losing streak to improve to 14-7 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12.
With Turner, ranked as the second-best high school prospect in the nation, and four-star recruit Mitchell Solomon, a 6-9 senior at Bixby (Okla.) High School who signed with the Cowboys in November and will join the team next season, sitting beside each other a few rows behind the OSU bench on Saturday, Ford was probably tempted to turn around and ask them to put on a uniform.
“We knew they were going to come inside. We knew that was exactly what was going to happen,” Ford said. “We thought we did a decent job on Austin and Jefferson in the first half and then Gathers comes out there and gets 12.
“Then in the second half, Jefferson scores. We doubled (them) and actually had some pretty good rotations but when you double the post it leaves somebody open. They did a good job of finding (the open man) and then making the shot. We actually rotated and had a hand up a couple times, but they made some difficult shots. Give them credit.”
The Cowboys trailed by as many as nine points midway through the second half before staging a rally which got the crowd of 11,500 into the game.
Marcus Smart’s steal and two free throws pulled the Cowboys within two at 57-55, and then on the ensuing inbounds play the point guard’s alley-oop pass to Markel Brown got the OSU crowd roaring its approval.
Baylor guard Brady Heslip’s 3-pointer – his sixth of the game – put the Bears back on top and then Jefferson’s conventional three-point play gave the Bears a 63-59 lead.
Markel Brown’s 3-pointer made it a one-point game and then Smart’s two free throws gave the Cowboys a 64-63 lead – their first since early in the second half – with four minutes remaining in the game.
But over those last four minutes, it wasn’t Austin, Jefferson or Gathers who made the big play for the Bears but 6-2 guard Gary Franklin, who hit three consecutive treys. Franklin’s third 3-pointer came with just 44 seconds remaining to give the Bears a 72-67 lead, and came after Heslip missed from long range but Baylor’s Royce O’Neale grabbed the offensive rebound to give his team another chance. Franklin took advantage of it and finished off the Cowboys, who are now 10-1 at home this season.
“We’re not playing well,” Ford said. “You’ve got to give Baylor credit. They made tough shots. Anytime we got a little momentum … they came back and kind of answered it with every big three and every big play.
“As I told our team, we’ve got to keep our head up and weather the storm. No one is immune to difficult times. I don’t care whether it’s sports or life, everybody runs into difficult times and adversity.
“We’re in a rut. We have got to weather the storm and keep our head up. It’s part of life. It does no good to feel sorry for yourself. We have seen many great college teams go through it this year, where they’ve gone through difficult times. The only way we’re going to respond to it and have any success is if we do it as a team. That’s going to be crucial for us, that we do it as a team and not as individuals,” Ford continued.
Markel Brown was outstanding for the Cowboys as he was 9-of-12 from the field (including 6-of-8 on 3-pointers) and led all scorers in the game with 24 points. Le’Bryan Nash added 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and Kamari Murphy was 4-of-4 for nine points.
The rest of the Cowboys were only 3-of-23 shooting (with Smart going 3 for 14, Phil Forte 0 for 4, and Brian Williams 0 for 3).
The Bears shot 51.9 percent from the field – only the second time this season a team has made more than half of its shots against the Cowboys – with Heslip scoring a team-high 20 points.
“As I told our team, nobody is immune to it. Everybody goes through tough times,” Ford said. “We’ve got to be able to handle when everybody is talking good about you, then you’ve got to be able to handle when everybody is talking bad about you. That’s part of life, that’s part of the situation of being in athletics at this level.
“We have to regroup as a team, within our circle, and weather the storm. If we do it as a team, I think we’ll be OK. But if we make excuses and we don’t play to our strengths, and don’t understand our role and accept our role then we’re just going to still be banging our head against the wall.”
The Cowboys don’t have long to regroup as they host Iowa State in a nationally televised Big Monday game on Monday night in Stillwater.