Loss to Baylor shows difference between proven champions, contenders

Forward+Christian+Bishop+dribbles+toward+the+basket+on+February+28%2C+2022+at+the+Frank+Erwin+Center.

Kara Hawley/The Daily Texan

Forward Christian Bishop dribbles toward the basket on February 28, 2022 at the Frank Erwin Center.

Nick Pannes, Sports Reporter

44 years after the Texas men’s basketball program played its first game in the Frank Erwin Center, the Longhorns exited the fabled arena for the last time Monday. The loss to Baylor was a disappointing finale cemented by a glimpse of a poetic conclusion. 

But Monday’s defeat is a testament to the prowess and resilience of champions.

The Bears rose to the No. 3 spot in the rankings on Monday after beating Kansas on the road in a reaffirmation of their title as the reigning champions of NCAA D1 basketball. They marched into the Erwin Center just two days later and beat No. 20 Texas, bumping them to No. 21, in front of a raucous sellout crowd.

Texas matched Baylor blow-for-blow for much of the first half, with the team leading 30-27. The Longhorn defense delivered clean stops and the offense, despite its struggles, remained productive against one of the best defenses in the NCAA.

But in the second half, Baylor tapped into its championship DNA and elevated its play to another level. After shooting 25% from three in the first half, the Bears made 6-10 in the second. They capitalized on a fatigued Texas defense, earning 17 attempts from the free-throw line, compared to just three in the first half. 

Baylor proved once again that it could execute Texas head coach Chris Beard’s signature defense better than his own team. The Bears drove the Texas offense into disarray and shut down the shooting talent of senior guards Marcus Carr, Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones by offering little-to-no effective shot selection.

With 5:30 left on the clock and the game tied at 54 points, the precarious life raft Texas senior forward Christian Bishop fashioned for his team through a string of blocks, layups and difficult rebounds started to sink. Baylor had won the battle of attrition. An effortless nine-point run ended the game like a surprise knockout between two evenly-matched heavyweights. 

In the end, Baylor did what we’ve seen champions do time and time again: rally in a dominating fashion. 

Whether it’s Giannis Antetokounmpo delivering three 40-plus point games to flip the script against Phoenix in the NBA Finals, Tom Brady engineering a 25-point Super Bowl comeback against Atlanta or Baylor turning the disappointment of a record season cut short by COVID-19 into motivation for their title run last year, champions find a way to win. They outlast their opponents mentally and physically.

That’s the difference between a champion and a contender. Baylor guard Adam Flagler echoed this sentiment on Monday night after his team’s win. 

“Great teams make adjustments at halftime,” Flagler said. “We put a lot of emphasis on the last five minutes of the game. We pride ourselves on buckling down and being a tough team.”