Thursday, April 4, 2013 | 10:10 p.m.
NEW YORK — The Baylor team that was the preseason pick to finish second in the Big 12 showed up at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. Looking like a powerhouse, the Bears dismantled Iowa, 74-54, in the NIT championship game.
If Baylor had played like that more often during an underachieving regular season, it would have been in the NCAA tournament. The sixth place Big 12 finish instead landed the Bears in the NIT, but they made the most of the opportunity by winning the first NIT title in school history.
“I’m just extremely proud of my team,” senior point guard Pierre Jackson, a Desert Pines High School graduate, said. “The way we played tonight, it was domination.”
Baylor’s athleticism wore on the Hawkeyes until they were completely overwhelmed. Baylor’s five-point halftime lead was cut to 28-27 early in the second half before a 14-4 spurt effectively put the game out of reach.
Jackson and forward Cory Jefferson combined to score all 14 points during the run. The Bears (23-14) shot 65.2 percent in the second half and led by double figures the rest of the way.
Jackson earned the NIT Most Outstanding Player award with his fourth straight double-double (17 points and 10 assists). Many of those assists went to Jefferson, whose 23 points included six dunks.
“The bigger the stage, the bigger the moment, the better (Jackson) performs,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said.
Isaiah Austin finished his first — and quite possibly only — season at Baylor in style. The 7-foot-1 freshman had 15 points, nine rebounds, five blocks and four assists, showing why he could be a lottery pick in this year’s NBA draft.
“His performances the last two games were how he played earlier (in the season),” Drew said. “Obviously we wouldn’t win without him. He was tremendous.”
Iowa (25-13) shot 26.1 percent and leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble was limited to six points on 3 of 12 shooting. Marble averaged 24.3 points in the previous four NIT games, but the junior swingman was shut down by A.J. Walton, who recorded six steals.
“It started with A.J. on the ball on defense, just locking down whoever he was guarding,” Jefferson said. “That energized everybody and got us playing defense that much harder.”