Jan 30, 2023; Austin, Texas, USA; Texas Longhorns forward Dillon Mitchell (23) dunks over Baylor Bears guard Keyonte George (1) and forward Flo Thamba (0) during the first half at Moody Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

No. 10 Texas holds off late rally from No. 11 Baylor, earns 76-71 win to stay atop Big 12 standings

No. 10 Texas 76, No. 11 Baylor 71

No. 10 Texas picked up a huge 76-71 win over No. 11 Baylor on Monday night to improve to 7-2 in Big 12 play and assure itself at least a share of the league lead heading into the weekend. The win was the first for Texas over Baylor since 2019 and gives the Horns a massive resume-building win as the regular season heads into its final month. Sir’Jabari Rice scored 15 points in the second half to help the Longhorns hold off a late Baylor rally, and Timmie Allen poured in 18 important points as well.

Baylor’s guards shot the ball poorly most of the night but made plays late to keep things tight. L.J. Cryer and Keyonte George scored 19 and 17 points, respectively, to lead the Bears.

The still sparkling and new Moody Center in Austin was buzzing pregame for the Longhorns’ much-anticipated battle with Baylor, a team that traveled to Austin having won six straight. Baylor had dominated the Horns in recent years, winning 12 of 13 in the series.

Texas head coach Rodney Terry bemoaned his team’s lack of physicality after its loss at No. 4 Tennessee, and the Longhorns responded well in the early part of Monday night’s heavyweight fight with Baylor. Despite Baylor guards Jalen Bridges and L.J. Cryer drilling consecutive 3-pointers in the game’s first two minutes, Texas dominated the glass, earned loose balls by diving on the floor, and held a 10-8 lead five minutes in.

Baylor’s early 3-point barrage continued as the Bears started 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, but the Longhorns’ defense did an excellent job denying Baylor any looks in the paint. The Longhorns were opportunistic, creating transition opportunities off of turnovers to extend the lead to 20-15 at the under-12 media timeout.

Scott Drew’s Bears began the game by making just 3-of-15 shots inside the arc but continued to stay within striking distance of Texas with their 3-point shooting. As the first half went along, Baylor began to match the Longhorns’ physicality as they pulled to near even in rebounds and narrowed the gap on the scoreboard. After back-to-back Texas turnovers before the under-4 media timeout, Dale Bonner made two free throws to pull Baylor within a point, 30-29. 

Foul trouble began to become an issue for the Bears as the first half wound to a close, with starting big man Flo Thamba’s two early fouls and his backup Josh Ojianwuna’s three. Texas led 38-36 at halftime behind 12 points from Timmie Allen, who finished the first half 5-of-6 from the field. The Longhorns out-rebounded Baylor 22-15 in the first half but committed seven turnovers that kept them from extending their lead at the break.

After Baylor tied the game on the second half’s first possession, a thundering one-handed put-back dunk by Dillon Mitchell gave Texas back the lead and seemingly sparked momentum for the Longhorns. The 8-0 Texas run that followed forced Baylor to use a timeout early in the second half and extended the Longhorns’ lead to 46-38. 

Baylor, which started the game 4-of-5 on 3-pointers, made just three of its first 13 second-half shots but stayed within reach by narrowing the rebounding gap and finding its way to the free-throw line. Still, Baylor’s talented guards were struggling from the field in a major way. Keyonte George and L.J. Cryer had combined to make just 9-of-28 combined shots with 7:45 to play, and Texas led 59-54 at the under-8 media timeout.

As the game entered its final five minutes, back-to-back 3-pointers by Sir’Jabari Rice helped Texas maintain its lead despite Baylor’s persistence. Rice would finish the night with 21 points off the bench, tied for the New Mexico State transfer’s most in any game this season.

Baylor, despite its guards struggling most of the night, cut the Texas lead to just 68-66 on Adam Flagler’s driving layup with two and a half minutes left. Keyonte George drove through contact for a layup of his own on Baylor’s next possession, but four straight made free throws by the Longhorns kept Texas ahead 72-68 as the game entered its final minute.

After a 3-point play by Keyonte George pulled the Bears to within one point for the first time since the opening moments, Marcus Carr’s clutch midrange jumper extended the Longhorns’ lead back to three at 74-71. Texas handled business as needed on defense on the Bears’ final possessions, and Sir’Jabari Rice connected on two free throws in the final seconds to put the game away.

The hard-fought win improves Texas to 4-3 against ranked opponents this season and earns the Horns just their second win over Baylor in their last 14 tries. The grueling Big 12 schedule continues for the Longhorns this weekend as they head on the road to No. 7 Kansas State, where they will once again try to maintain their position atop the nation’s best basketball conference.

Baylor, now 5-4 in Big 12 play after seeing its six-game winning streak snapped, hosts last-place Texas Tech on Saturday in Waco.

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