GAME NOTES: The Baylor Bears take aim at their 20th victory of the season, as they play host to the Arizona State Sun Devils in second-round action of the 2013 NIT.
The winner of this game will advance to next week's quarterfinals to take on either Robert Morris or Providence.
The Bears are taking part in their fifth NIT and are currently 5-4 all-time in the event. Baylor has won five of its last six tournament games, including a 112-66 rout of Long Beach State in first-round action on Wednesday. Scott Drew's Bears are now 19-14 on the year and are in search of their fifth 20-win season in the last six years.
Herb Sendek's Sun Devils are already over the 20-win mark, sporting a 22-12 overall record. It is the fourth 20-win season in Sendek's seven years in Tempe. Arizona State has played in the NIT 11 times in school history, with a 6-11 tournament record. The Sun Devils also posted a lopsided win in their first-round matchup, with an 83-68 victory over Detroit at home on Wednesday.
These two teams are meeting for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Baylor owns a 4-2 series advantage all-time and has won the last three meetings, including a 68-54 decision in Waco in the last encounter back in 2010.
Arizona State had one of its most impressive performances of the season, serving notice to the remainder of the NIT field that it has set its sights on a championship, following a 15-point win over the Titans in first-round action. The Sun Devils led Detroit from start to finish, thanks to the offensive exploits of both Jahii Carson and Carrick Felix, who finished with 22 and 21 points, respectively. Carson, who was 7-of-10 from the floor and 8- of-10 from the free-throw line, completed a huge stat line with 10 rebounds and seven assists. Jordan Bachynski poured in 16 points from his center position, while Jonathan Gilling chipped in with 10.
Carson, who shared the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Award with UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad, has shown no signs of slowing up. The 5-foot-10 youngster is both a prolific scorer (18.4 ppg) and deft distributor (5.1 apg). Felix (14.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg) is the perfect complement with his ability to score both inside and out. Both Evan Gordon (10.0 ppg) and Bachynski (9.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.5 bpg) are strong role players.
Baylor has its own superstar in the backcourt in Pierre Jackson. The 5-foot-10 senior has certainly saved his best for last, leading the Big 12 in both scoring (19.5 ppg) and assists (6.4) and is on the verge of being the first player from a power conference to lead his league in both scoring and assists in the same season since Arizona's Jason Terry (1998-99). Balance for the Bears comes in the form of freshman center Isaiah Austin (13.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and junior forward Cory Jefferson (12.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg), while guards Brady Heslip (8.8 ppg, 76 3-pointers) and A.J. Walton (7.2 ppg, 3.6 apg) round out a potent starting five.
The Bears showed off their long-range acumen in the easy win over the 49ers this week, as they connected on a season-high 16 3-pointers. Heslip led the way in that regard, draining eight triples, en route to a game-high 26 points. Six other Bears netted double figures in the offensive eruption, as Jefferson (15 pts), Taurean Prince (14 pts), Austin (13 pts), Jackson (11 pts), Gary Franklin (11 pts) and Deuce Bello (10 pts) all made their presence felt in the win.
Baylor rolled up 112 points this week and Jackson wasn't even really involved, playing just 20 minutes in the game. With two elite playmakers on the floor, this one should be exciting from start to finish. Give the Bears the edge getting this one at home.
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