WACO — Baylor hasn’t given its basketball fans much to cheer about at home recently, but the Bears turned that pattern around thanks to the Killeen Connection in their frontcourt.
Former Killeen High star Cory Jefferson and former Harker Heights standout Royce O’Neale helped the Bears beat the Kansas State Wildcats 87-73 in double overtime Saturday at the Ferrell Center.
“When the fans are encouraging like they are, it’s easier to compete,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said.
The win gave Baylor its first in front of its green-and-gold clad home fans for the first time in five games. Baylor’s last home win came Jan. 11 when it cruised by TCU 88-62.
Jefferson finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds while O’Neale added six points, eight rebounds and two assists.
The pair got Baylor on the board when O’Neale lobbed an alley-oop pass to Jefferson for a dunk, but after that, points came at a premium for the Bears.
Baylor mustered only 21 points in the first half on 26 percent (8 for 30) shooting.
O’Neale got his only points of the first half by hitting the first of two 3-pointers he took in the first 20 minutes of the game. That basket cut Kansas State’s early lead to 16-13 with 6:04 left.
The Baylor offense got into a better flow in the second half and part of the reason was its ability to get the ball inside to Jefferson.
The former Killeen High star took six shots in the first half, but scored 16 of his 21 points after halftime. Jefferson was able to attack the Wildcat defense in the paint and as a result made eight of nine free throws before fouling out with 35 seconds remaining in the first overtime.
“We just wanted to keep playing as a team,” Baylor center Isaiah Austin said. “Cory gave us his all tonight. He fouled out because he was out there hustling and going hard. When we were in the huddle, we said that everyone has to keep going hard and playing for each other, just like Cory did.”
Jefferson was also involved in what proved to be the most pivotal play of the game.
Baylor had the ball with 23 seconds remaining and trailing 57-54 in the final possession.
After a missed layup by Kenny Chery and missed 3-pointer by Gary Franklin, Jefferson picked up the offensive rebound with six seconds left and put up a shot with three seconds left that missed. Austin rebounded Jefferson’s missed shot and passed it out to Brady Heslip for a 3-pointer at the buzzer that sent the game into overtime.
“I thought Cory, for a second, might get a bucket and foul and that wouldn’t have been a bad way to get a 3-pointer,” Drew said. “But it was really heads up to get the ball to Brady.”
O’Neale gave the Bears their first lead of the first overtime by hitting one of two free throws to put Baylor ahead 58-57 in the first nine seconds of the extra session.
He later assisted on a Taurean Prince 3-pointer that opened the scoring in the second overtime. That basket gave Baylor a 71-68 lead that they did not relinquish for the rest of the game.
O’Neale had three points on 3 of 4 shooting from the free throw line, an assist and defensive rebound in both overtime periods.