In defeat, Baylor’s Drew lauds his players for their character

Coach Scott Drew lauded the character of his players after the top-seeded Baylor Bears’ reign as national champions came to an exhausting end on Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth.

East region No. 8 seed North Carolina downed No. 1 Baylor 93-86 in overtime, ousting the Bears in a wild, round-of-32 game at the NCAA tournament.

At this time last year, the Bears were rolling toward their first title in men’s basketball and the first by a team from the state since Texas Western (now UTEP) won it all in 1966.

Today, Baylor’s season is over after finishing 27-7, which included a tie for first in the Big 12 regular season with Kansas.

The Bears won their first 15 games this season, before injuries and adversity caught up with them.

They forged a 14-4 record in Big 12 play, and then knocked off Norfolk State (Va.) in the NCAA’s first round.

In the Round of 32, they fell behind early against the Tar Heels, who were led by guard RJ Davis and forward Brady Manek

Ten minutes into the second half, the Bears’ deficit expanded to 25 points. With a pressing defense, they rallied furiously into an 80-80 tie at the end of regulation, only to see the Tar Heels escape in the five-minute extra period.

Davis had 30 points and Manek, who was ejected on a flagrant foul in the second half, finished with 26.

“Really proud of (our players’) effort and just how they carried themselves all year long,” Drew said in the post-game press conference at Dickies Arena. “15 and zero, (we) face a bunch of injuries, adversity. We could have gone away, end up (winning) conference.

“Same with today, you get down 25, it’s easy to fold. These guys don’t.

“It’s a joy to coach them every single day. We might be losers on the scoreboard today … Give North Carolina a lot of credit.

“Coach (Hubert) Davis is a great coach, does a lot of great things. They got a lot of great players and a great program. But I’m proud of these guys (with the Bears) and how they represent Baylor University.”

In the Bears’ season finale, guard Adam Flagler led with 27 points. James Akinjo produced 20 points, five assists and three steals. Jeremy Sochan produced 15 points off the bench, and Matthew Mayer scored 10.

Drew called his players “great young men” who had good attitudes about how to practice and play. “They really represented the school the right way,” he said.

The coach touched on the spiritual, as well, spelling out the theme of the team.

“What is impossible with man is possible with God,” Drew said. “I mean, to win back-to-back conference (championships) with three season-ending injuries, that’s phenomenal, along with all the other injuries these guys have overcome.

“And I know Adam will be excited to finally rest his body and get 100 percent healthy. He hadn’t been 100 percent healthy in six weeks or so. But it just shows you the toughness the guys have.”

Baylor played in the tournament without injured Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, and LJ Cryer.

Freshman Langston Love, from San Antonio-area Steele High School and Montverde (Fla.) Academy, was lost to the team for the season in October, before the first game. Love is rehabilitating a knee injury.

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