Waco, Texas Maybe Baylor really is better off without Tevis Stukes.
Stukes, Baylor's leading scorer through the first 14 games, abruptly quit the team this week, just as the Bears were preparing to face 18th-ranked Kansas.
Baylor wasn't supposed to have a chance against KU with him. Without him, the Bears came closer than just about anybody imagined before falling, 66-62, on Wednesday night at Ferrell Center.
"Whether we developed a positive from a negative situation or we just played a good basketball game, I don't know," said Baylor center Kish Lewis, who collected game highs in points (21) and rebounds (11), even though he played just 22 foul-plagued minutes and gave as much as five inches to the Jayhawks who guarded him.
"We're going to keep fighting. We're going to give teams a basketball game."
They sure gave Kansas one.
Despite a horrendous start, when the Bears went just over six minutes without a field goal, Baylor (6-9 overall, 0-2 Big 12) heated up and led by as many as three points, at 25-22 with 5:10 left in the first half.
Kansas (10-3, 2-0) stretched its lead as big as 13, at 59-46 with 6:18 left and again at 61-48 with 5:34 showing, before the Bears bounced back.
Lewis, a 6-foot-7 senior, scored seven points in a 9-0 Baylor run that pulled the Bears within four. He hit another field goal with 29.9 seconds left that cut the deficit to 63-60. And he hit two free throws with 9.5 seconds left that made it 65-62, but the Bears could come no closer.
Baylor outrebounded KU, 44-33, but hit just 33.9 percent of its field goals. The Bears stayed in it with an inspired defense that held KU to 42.3-percent shooting.
"I just think we were very, very focused," embattled Baylor coach Harry Miller said. "What you see is a bunch that's very, very focused. ... I had guys come into my office and say that they were rededicating themselves."
The logical impetus for that rededication was Stukes' departure. A 5-11 junior guard, Stukes led the Bears with 17.8 points through the first 14 games. He left the team after Baylor's 93-62 shellacking at Texas Tech last Saturday, and Miller agreed to release him from his scholarship.
Stukes will remain in school but won't play for the Bears and will be able to transfer next semester with his senior year intact.
"Before we go to play a basketball game, we hold hands and we pray," Lewis said. "It's a circle. If you're not in that circle, there's not a lot you can do to help us."
Then again ...
"We're starting to come together," Lewis said. "We're coming together as a team. We realize one man isn't going to do anything. One monkey don't stop no show."
Whether they'll come together enough to save Miller's job remains to be seen.
In his fifth year at Baylor, Miller is 56-72, and the Stukes situation didn't help his standing in Bear country.
A win over Kansas no doubt would have helped his cause, but a narrow loss?
"We're pleased with how we fought, but we're not pleased with the outcome," Miller said. "As a coach, you can't have moral victories."
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