With an unexpected trip to New York and a chance to win a championship, Curtis Jerrells and the other Baylor seniors have crafted an ending most fitting for a group that endured and accomplished so much.
The quartet's college career began with only a half season because they chose scandal-scarred Baylor when the program was still reeling from the shooting death of a player by his teammate. They led a remarkable recovery that peaked with a berth in last year's NCAA tournament.
``I'll tell you this, I would want another year if we hadn't made the NIT and played like we did in the Big 12 tournament,'' Jerrells said.
There was no return trip to the NCAA this year for Jerrells, Kevin Rogers, Henry Dugat and Mamadou Diene after the Bears lost 10 of their last 12 games in the regular season. That stretch ended at home with a loss against Nebraska in a too-quiet, half-empty arena when Baylor students were on spring break.
``That wasn't what I had envisioned for senior night,'' sixth-year coach Scott Drew said.
ne more victory than it had in the Big 12 all year, and plays San Diego State (26-9) in an NIT semifinal Tuesday night.
The Bears won three games in three days to get into their first Big 12 tournament championship game. They played their NIT opener at home, in a full and raucous arena where they overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to beat tradition-laden Georgetown.
``That was a special day. I'll take that one over Nebraska,'' said Jerrells, who will match a school record with his 118th game in the NIT semifinals.
``Now the seniors can look back at what they accomplished when the season is over,'' Drew said. ``The first postseason win in 59 years, the first back-to-back 20-win seasons, and being the winningest group of seniors to ever step foot on the Baylor campus. ... So the way this season has finished out, it's been a dream.''
Jerrells, Rogers and Dugat were playing against each other in AAU games in Texas when they decided they wanted to play together at Baylor. Diene is a 7-foot-1 center from Senegal.
There were only 17 games their freshman season (2005-06), when Baylor was banned from playing nonconference games as part of NCAA penalties for numerous violations under former coach Dave Bliss that were revealed after player Patrick Dennehy was murdered in 2003.
fore improving to 15-16 the next one.
Then last season, the Bears won 21 games and earned their first NCAA berth in 20 years.
With its senior-led group, Baylor went into this season with high expectations. Big 12 coaches in their preseason poll had the Bears tied for third with defending national champion Kansas, behind Oklahoma and Texas.
Things were going as planned after winning three of their first four Big 12 games. The Bears were 15-3 overall and in an unprecedented stretch of seven consecutive weeks ranked in the Top 25 - all before losing six straight games.
``We put pressure on ourselves to go out and just win, win, win,'' Jerrells said. ``Once it wasn't happening for us, I think we kind of got down as a team. We got down on ourselves because we weren't doing as good as we expected to do.''
They didn't recover until the postseason, after the players called a team meeting.
``If we would have played all season the way we've been playing now, who knows what we could have done?'' Jerrells said.
Baylor made an incredible surge in the Big 12 tournament, avenging the loss to Nebraska before wins over Kansas and Texas - its first over the Longhorns in 25 games dating to 1998.
ore wins, ousting Virginia Tech and Auburn after beating Georgetown.
``To be one of the final eight teams (in the NCAA and NIT tournaments) when we play again, that's truly a remarkable accomplishment,'' Drew said.
The win at Auburn was the 63rd for the seniors and sent the Bears to Madison Square Garden for the first time since the Final Four in 1950, the year of Baylor's last national tournament win before this season's surge.
``I can look back and say I'm proud of my decision to come here,'' Jerrells said. ``I'm just proud of the things that I and the seniors have done.''
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