Baylor overcomes Auburn, moves into NIT semifinals

Published 10:12 am Wednesday, March 25, 2009

AUBURN — The Baylor Bears made big baskets, grabbed timely rebounds and dodged a few bullets.

Apparently, they’re getting the postseason formula down pretty well.

Curtis Jerrells rebounded a missed free throw then made 1-of-2 from the line with 6.9 seconds left and Auburn couldn’t convert two late chances to tie or pull ahead, helping the Bears advance to the semifinals of the NIT with a 74-72 win Tuesday night.

Kevin Rogers added 19 points and nine rebounds to help the Bears (23-14) extend their improbable run after finishing ninth in the Big 12 Conference and going 59 years without a postseason win.

They started the string with a league tournament that included upsets of Kansas and Texas.

“I think it shows great character,” Jerrells said. “We didn’t have the kind of season we wanted during the conference season, but we pulled together. We found the energy to go into the conference tournament, do some damage, and then just continue on from there.”

The Tigers (24-12), who matched the second-best win total in program history, had two chances in the final seconds to at least tie it.

Trailing 73-72, Auburn forced a turnover on the inbound pass with 16 seconds left. “I should probably have come up with a better play,” Baylor coach Scott Drew quipped.

DeWayne Reed attempted a leaner and was fouled, but missed both free throws and Jerrells rebounded the second.

“I came up to the line and missed two free throws that could have tied the game or you win it,” Reed said. “It hurts bad.”

Rasheem Barrett’s 3-point try bounced off the the rim at the buzzer.

“I had a wide-open look and just hit back rim,” Barrett said. “I just didn’t knock it down.

“I was taking whatever they were going to give me. To tell the truth, it looked good. It looked real good. When it hit back rim, I knew it was over.”

Baylor will play the St. Mary’s-San Diego State winner next Tuesday in New York, their first game at Madison Square Garden since the 1950 NCAA Final Four.

Kevin Rogers had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Bears, who shot 51 percent. Jerrells added 16 points and eight assists against only one turnover.

Tweety Carter had 13 points and made three 3-pointers. Jerrells, Rogers and Henry Dugat took over as Baylor’s winningest senior class with No. 63.

“They’ve done a great job of leading the team,” Drew said. “I’m so happy they’re playing their best basketball at the end of their career so they can have great memories toward the end.”

The Bears hadn’t won multiple postseason games since finishing as NCAA runner-up to Kentucky in 1948.

Barrett led Auburn with 16 points and had hit three of four 3s before his final miss, including one with 19 seconds left to make it a one-point game. Reed scored 13 while Korvotney Barber had 11 points and 13 rebounds.

“We battled and there were a couple of turnovers at the end and a couple of key plays to get back into the game and take the lead,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. “We just weren’t able to finish it off.

“We’ve had an unbelievable year and I am really proud of them and what they have accomplished.”

The Tigers rallied from a seven-point deficit in the final 2 minutes on back-to-back 3-pointers, trying to extend their first postseason since 2003. Tay Waller hit the first from the right wing with 1:05 left to make it 73-69.

The Bears then managed to wind most of the shot-clock down but Jerrells was forced to try an off-balance 3-pointer with 29 seconds left. Barrett fired away from beyond the arc 10 seconds later.

“Both teams wanted to go to New York and both teams wanted to keep playing,” Drew said. “Both teams have great upperclassman leadership, so we knew it would come down to the end. We’d prefer it not to get that close at the end, but credit to our guys for getting a stop and the rebound.”