OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)—Kevin Durant’s first-half performance was forgettable. Luckily for Texas, he made up for it by putting on a show in the second half.
Durant, the league’s player of the year, missed his first 12 shots but recovered to finish with 29 points and 13 rebounds, and the fifteenth-ranked Longhorns came from 20 points down to beat Baylor 74-69 Friday night in the Big 12 Conference tournament quarterfinals.
It was the largest rally in tournament history.
“He just wasn’t very good,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said of Durant’s play in the first half. “I don’t know if it was tentative or whatever.
“But he was pretty good in the second half.”
Seldom-used Craig Winder scored eight points, including a basket with 1:56 left that put the Longhorns ahead for the first time since the opening minutes, and D.J. Augustin hit a basket and two free throws in the final 18.5 seconds.
Third-seeded Texas (23-8) advanced to play seventh-seeded Oklahoma State in the semifinals Saturday. The Longhorns and Cowboys split a pair of games earlier this season, including a triple-overtime classic won by Oklahoma State.
Texas extended its winning streak against Baylor (15-16) to 20 games, a run that dates to 1988, but not without a major scare from the Bears, who lost three times to Texas this season by a combined total of 11 points.
“This team, I have said before, we don’t always do the smartest things but the one thing they do, they keep playing and they haven’t flinched all year,” Barnes said.
Baylor rode a sizzling first-half shooting performance to an 18-point halftime lead, a margin the Bears stretched to 20 with 17 minutes left.
Durant, who had just five first-half points, fueled the Longhorns’ comeback, setting a school record for points in a half in a Big 12 game. Durant just missed the Big 12 record for points in a half of 26.
Baylor has lost 27 straight games against ranked foes.
“We really prepared for this,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We really wanted this. To basically have the lead we did and have it slip away, I mean, that hurts a lot worse than not being in the game.”
Texas led 2-0 but then watched Baylor sprint away as the Bears—who had shot 63 percent from the field in a first-round win over Missouri—built an 18-point lead in the first 12 minutes.
Even as Baylor built its lead, Barnes didn’t call a timeout “because I think I would have killed them if I would have. And I didn’t want to do that, and I just said, ‘Hey, let them figure it out themselves.”’
That didn’t happen, at least in the first half. The Bears were shooting 67 percent from the field at one point before finishing the half at 53.3 percent. Baylor went 7-of-14 from 3-point range in the half.
Conversely, Durant, the Big 12 player of the year, struggled, missing his first 12 shots before scoring his first basket on a putback in the final minute of the half.
Baylor led 48-28 with 17 minutes left, but the Bears cooled off considerably, shooting 24.1 percent from the field after halftime and going only 1-for-7 on 3-point attempts. Meanwhile, Texas improved from 22.9 percent in the first half to 53.3 percent, and went to a full-court press in the final 12 minutes that gave Baylor fits.
“It wasn’t necessarily our offense that changed or our defense that changed, it was just that Texas made a run,” Baylor junior guard Aaron Bruce said. “Momentum changed more than anything, them being the aggressor both on the offensive and defensive end. We struggled with dealing with that.”
Durant also began hitting shots, going 7-for-11 after halftime to finish 8-of-24 from the field.
In the first half, Durant said, “I wasn’t playing like the player I am. I was settling for jumpshots and I wasn’t helping my teammates on defense. In the second half … I was just being more aggressive, going toward the basket. I think I went to the line 12 times today, so that was a plus. Just going at their big men and their guards, and we did a good job.”
Winder, who hadn’t scored in the Longhorns’ last three games and entered the tournament averaging 1.6 points per game, had a steal and layup that tied the game at 65-65 with 3:09 left.
Mamadou Diene—who had career highs in points (14) and rebounds (12)—gave Baylor its final lead by making 1-of-2 free throws with 2:13 left. Winder answered with a putback at 1:56 to put the Longhorns ahead 67-66.
“Craig won the game for us by far,” Durant said.
Texas’ lead was 70-66 before Curtis Jerrells—who led Baylor with 19 points — hit three free throws to bring Baylor within one point with 45.9 seconds left.
Augustin’s basket with 18.5 seconds left extended the Longhorns’ lead to 72-69, and Bruce missed a 3-pointer at the other end. Durant rebounded and Augustin hit two free throws with 8.4 seconds left.
A.J. Abrams added 16 points for Texas, while Damion James had eight points and 11 rebounds.