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Baylor Basketball

Cue the Confetti: Bears celebrate Big 12 title in grand fashion after win over Texas Tech

March 7, 2021
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WACO—Clutching a pair of scissors in his right hand, Scott Drew ascended the silver ladder under the Ferrell Center basket and glanced across the confetti-strewn court.

Eighteen years after accepting the most daunting job in college basketball, the Baylor coach wanted to savor every last image of a Big 12 title celebration many swore he’d never experience.

All-American Jared Butler beamed on a nearby podium as his parents snapped photos of him cradling the championship trophy.

Splayed across the hardwood, seniors Mark Vital and MaCio Teague made confetti angels amid the green and gold streamers that danced from the rafters after an 88-73 win over Texas Tech. Assistant coaches embraced their wives and children as team managers distributed commemorative t-shirts and hats.

Hovering above it all—and already sporting both pieces of championship swag—Drew turned toward the basket. Slowly and carefully, he snipped away the final strands of the cotton net. Cameras flashed as Drew yanked it from the rim and hoisted it into the air, screaming with joy. It was a defining moment in what could end up being a Hall of Fame career—even if it made him a tad uncomfortable.

“I really didn’t like being up on that ladder,” Drew joked later. “I’m scared of heights.”

Sooner rather than later—maybe even during the next few weeks—Drew will grow accustomed to the view from the top.

Both literally and figuratively.

Considering the direction and momentum of Baylor’s program, Sunday’s net-cutting ceremony will likely be the first of many for Drew and the Bears—not only to celebrate conference titles, but perhaps an NCAA championship or three, as well. That notion would’ve sounded ludicrous when Drew took over the scandal-plagued program back in 2003, just months after one player murdered another. But somehow, here are the trophy-touting Bears, 21-1 and at the top of the college basketball world.

“To see everyone else happy … that’s what makes me the happiest,” Drew said. “Every time you think about what these guys have achieved and what they’ve done for our program, you really get emotional. I was just praying God would help me keep it together.”

Baylor finished 13-1 in the Big 12. Every other team had at least six losses. The Bears actually clinched the title last Tuesday in an overtime road win at West Virginia, so the festivities following Sunday’s regular-season finale were simply the cherry on top—especially considering they occurred on Senior Day for Teague and Vital.

Already two of the most beloved players in program history, the high-scoring guard and menacing forward elevated themselves to legendary status Sunday.

In one of the most impressive shooting displays in Big 12 history, Teague swished 10 of his 12 three-point attempts and finished with 35 points, the most by a Bears player this season. Vital’s impact was just as powerful. Sporting a plastic facemark to protect a swollen jaw, “The Villain” scored 10 points and speared 15 boards for his first double-double of the season.

In a senior-to-senior moment that changed the game, Vital leaped out of bounds near the Baylor bench, corralled a loose ball and fired it to Teague in the corner. Teague took one step back behind the three-point line, squared his feet and swished a dagger that gave the Bears a 50-42 lead.

“That might have been my favorite play of the game,” Teague said.

The basket was part of a 16-4 run that left Baylor ahead 57-44 midway through the second half. Texas Tech, which trailed by as many as 22 points, never threatened again.

“If I didn’t give my all on that play I would have been sick,” Vital said. “I had to go into my Dennis Rodman mode—The Worm mode—and get that ball, because I knew I could get it. The whole building went crazy. I had to prove to people that I’m still The Villain.”

Vital didn’t stop there. Whether he was snaring an offensive rebound and passing to a wide-open Davion Mitchell for a three, deflecting a pass or pestering Red Raiders leading scorer Mac McClung (seven points) into one of his worst games of the season, Vital was everywhere Sunday in what may have been his best game ever at home. Almost fittingly, the former YouTube sensation—who committed to Baylor in the ninth grade—scored his final basket at the Ferrell Center on an alley-oop slam off a nice feed from Mitchell.

“I came in with a dunk and finished with a dunk,” Vital said. “That’s crazy, man. Davion told me he was going to get me that double-double, and the next play he came in with the alley and I dunked it. That closed the book right there.

“I tried to put everything I had left in the tank into this game. A lot of people doubted me at some point, saying that I’d lost it and didn’t have the energy. So I tried to put everything into this moment. It’s an amazing feeling right now. An amazing feeling.”

Teague can relate. His 10 long-distance buckets tied LacDarius Dunn’s school record for three-pointers in a game—and they were the most ever by a Baylor player against a Big 12 opponent. Teague entered the game shooting 34.3 percent from beyond the arc. After 10 flicks of the wrist that number had risen to 39.6.

Simply put, the basket looked like a hula hoop to Teague, whose 35 points were one off a career high.

“When I went out and did my pregame shooting I felt like I got into a really good rhythm,” Teague said. “I just wanted to continue to get shots up, make or miss. Against West Virginia, I missed a lot of shots but I kept shooting. My teammates kept telling me to shoot. Tonight they went in, so I’m happy. A lot of work I put in seemed to pay off tonight.”

Not just for Teague—who is averaging 20.8 points in his last four games—but for Baylor’s entire team.

Butler (18 points, five assists) and Davion Mitchell (17 and seven) combined for 35 points and 12 dimes. Mix in Teague, and Baylor’s guards went 15-of-19 from three-point range while scoring a collective 70 points—just three less than Texas Tech’s entire team.

The effort didn’t go unnoticed by Chris Beard, whose team suffered its most lopsided loss of the season. Baylor has now won six of its past seven games against Texas Tech.

“You can’t focus on one guy,” Beard said. “That’s what makes it tough. When those three starting guards play like that, they can obviously win the whole thing. We have a lot of respect for those guys, the way they’ve built the program over time. They played special today.”

The question now is whether the Bears—who are shooting a national-best 42.9 percent from long range—can do it again.

And again and again

At 22-1 overall, Baylor is a virtual lock for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. But before the brackets are announced Sunday, the Bears will travel to Kansas City and attempt to become the first Texas school in history to win the Big 12 tournament. Drew’s squad will take on the winner of Kansas State and TCU Thursday, and a victory there would propel Baylor into the semifinals against either West Virginia or Oklahoma State.

“It’s a heck of an honor when you have seven Top 25 teams competing in it,” Drew said. “Whoever wins, it’ll be an unbelievable feeling, I’m sure. I’ve seen three teams celebrate, (when Baylor finished second in past years), and they looked pretty happy. I know our guys would love to be the first, but there are going to be 10 teams up there really batting. It’ll make for great TV and coaches will lose some hair, that’s for sure.”

Drew, though, was too busy celebrating Baylor’s first Big 12 championship Sunday to look that far ahead. An hour after the game, he was still on the court, strolling through confetti, posing for pictures with staff members and relatives of his players as he clutched his new prized possession: the Ferrell Center net.

“Hopefully,” Drew said, “we won’t have to wait another 20 years to do this again.”

 
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