Championship buzz was back in Madison Square Garden Thursday night, and it cascaded down from the rafters onto the Baylor Bears as they rolled over the Iowa Hawkeyes 74-54 for their first NIT championship in school history and the first ever NIT title for the Big 12.
Like most championships, the magnitude of Thursday's contest overwhelmed both schools early, but after a tight first half, Baylor's maturity, length and athleticism turned it into a non-contest.
About half of the state of Iowa was in the "World's Most Famous Arena" to support their Hawkeyes. If you'd gone by the reaction from the crowd, you would have thought Iowa was the New York Knicks, and Baylor was every other hated away team that enters the Garden.
Despite winning 11 out of their last 14 coming into the championship game, Iowa played flat and uninspired ball but still only trailed Baylor 27-22 at halftime.
They would get as close as 28-27 after a good start to the second half, but there would be nothing for the Hawkeye faithful to cheer for after that.
Coach Fran McCaffery explained it just wasn't in the cards for his team: "We go into halftime, we're only down five and feel like we played well—seemingly fortunate I thought to be down five. If we could start with a [second half] run, like I said we we cut it to one, but it seemed like we kept missing easy shots."
Besides losing by 20 points, McCaffery was left scratching his head for another reason: "The stat that jumps out at me is that we had 20 offensive rebounds—against this team. Now that's effort, that's special. That should have equated to more success offensively, instead we only shot 27 percent in the second half."
Hawkeyes star guard Roy Devyn Marble scored Iowa's first two buckets of the game—looking poised to go off on the Bears—then he disappeared for the rest of the night, finishing with just six points.
Baylor's athleticism and physical play from big men Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers was the story of the night as Baylor dominated in the paint—outscoring Iowa 36-18.
Standout guard and senior leader of the Bears Pierre Jackson didn't disappoint either, racking up his fourth straight double-double with 17 points and 10 assists and taking home the NIT's "Most Outstanding Player" award.
When asked what his emotions were like after finishing his career at Baylor with an NIT championship, Jackson replied, "I'm just extremely proud of my team, the way we played tonight, it was domination."
Baylor coach Scott Drew profoundly said before the game, "There's only two happy teams at the end of the year, the team that wins the NCAA and the team that wins the NIT."
Drew was indeed happy—so much so that he said he was going to go find a hot dog stand and celebrate with an infamous New York City dirty water dog.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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