WACO — Josh Gray jumped into the air, stole the ball in the middle of the court and headed toward the rim.
Texas Tech was up by one point eight minutes into Saturday’s game against Baylor, and the 6-foot freshman point guard, trying to give his team a spark, soared in for a dunk. Instead, he slammed the ball off the back of the rim and out of bounds.
Later in the first half, after Baylor had ripped off a 15-0 run to take control game, the Bears’ senior point guard, Pierre Jackson, took a few steps across the half-court line, effortlessly lofted the ball toward the rim and watched teammate Cory Jefferson leap up and flush the lob home with authority.
Those two plays explained Tech’s fourth straight loss, 75-48, as much as any of the cover-your-eyes numbers the Red Raiders produced could. Baylor, with its players capable of leaping out of the gym, made the spectacular plays look routine. Tech, which missed 10 consecutive shots on two separate occasions — many of them from point-blank range — couldn’t put the ball in the basket even when it seemed wide open.
Layups may as well have been half-court shots.
That isn’t to disparage the effort the young Red Raiders (9-12, 2-8 in Big 12) put forth in a hostile environment Saturday. Tech players were constantly diving on the floor and fared better on the glass despite Baylor’s intimidating presence inside, which includes a 7-footer in Isaiah Austin (13 points and 13 rebounds) who can also step to the perimeter and hit a 3-pointer, as he did Saturday.
Tech held a 14-11 lead almost midway through the half before Baylor’s superior athleticism took over. In a flash, the Bears were off to the races — their first five field goals were 3-pointers, most of them in transition — and Tech didn’t have the horses to keep up.
“Our margin for error is so small,” Tech coach Chris Walker said. “We miss some shots, and that can be the difference between getting us going or not. Then they come down in transition — bang! bang! — and make a couple threes. It’s really hard for us right now as a program to battle back from that stuff.”
Tech, it’s roster devoid of knockdown shooters, went just 17 of 59 from the field (28.8 percent), 3 of 15 from 3-point range (20 percent) and 11 of 20 from the line (55 percent). The Red Raiders turned the ball over 17 times after only giving it up four times in a loss to Kansas State on Tuesday.
It didn’t help that Tech’s leading scorer in Big 12 play was on the bench for large chunks of the game. For all the strides Jordan Tolbert continues to make, avoiding foul trouble has often been a struggle this season.
The sophomore forward, who broke a string of five straight games in double figures, scored four points on back-to-back trips down the floor in the first half. But he soon thereafter picked up his second foul of the period and headed to the bench. Tolbert then committed a bad foul in the opening stages of the second half, grabbing Pierre Jackson by the waist as the Baylor guard cruised in for an open layup.
Limited by the foul trouble, Tolbert played just 17 minutes.
“He’s just got play smarter,” Walker said. “It’s as simple as that. I know he wants to and I know it’s something he talks about time and time again. He’s just got to have a more committed effort, more focus, to alleviate the fouls. That’s something he knows, he’s aware of it, and he just has to keep working at it.”
Tolbert finished with six points and missed all five of his free-throw attempts. No Tech player scored in double figures. Jaye Crockett scored seven points on 2 of 9 shooting and senior Ty Nurse failed to get a shot off in 11 minutes.
Jackson and Jefferson scored 15 points apiece for Baylor, which is tied for third place in the Big 12, two games behind leader Kansas State.
Leading 37-25 at halftime, Baylor (15-8, 6-4) stepped on the throttle. The Bears, riding a three-game losing streak and in desperate need of a win to stay in the NCAA tournament and Big 12 title conversation, peeled off a 16-1 run to erase any doubt about the outcome. Tech didn’t make its first field goal of the half until Jamal Williams, who led Tech with eight points and seven rebounds, nailed a baseline jumper with 12 minutes left in the game.
“It’s hard,” Tech forward Clark Lammert said. “We have spurts where we look like a great team — we’re moving the ball, playing hard — and then there are spurts where we’re not. Staying positive as team is what we have to do.”
Walker, as he has done all season, remained optimistic after the loss. He quickly moved his attention the team’s game against Oklahoma State on Wednesday, noting the last time Tech got throttled on the road (in Stillwater) it bounced back at home with an against-all-odds win against Iowa State.
“We’ll get back to the drawing board,” Walker said. “We’ll keep fighting. We have shown the ability to come back from tough losses and show some pride. We just have to put this game behind us. The beauty of basketball is we have another game in a couple days.”
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