Pierre Jackson has saved some of the best basketball of his career for the end of it.
Jackson earned himself and Baylor another game, putting up his third straight double-double with 24 points and 10 assists to lift the Bears back into the National Invitation Tournament championship with a 76-70 win over BYU on Tuesday night.
"We got one more," Jackson said. "If we win on Thursday, I'll probably be here shaking because I'm too excited."
The Bears will play Iowa or Maryland on Thursday night. Baylor's Cory Jefferson scored 21 points and Isaiah Austin had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Bears, who are in the championship for the second time in five years, after losing to Penn State in 2009.
Tyler Haws scored 25 points for the Cougars, who couldn't buy a shot from 3-point range for much of the game. Baylor (22-14) pulled away in the final eight minutes or so, and then withstood a late furious rally by BYU, led by Matt Carlino on 5-for-15 3-point shooting. The rest of the Cougars (24-12) went 0 for 6.
Carlino, who finished with 19 points, made three late 3- pointers to give BYU one last chance. His third one, with about 38 seconds to go, bounced three times on the rim and fell through to make it 71-68.
Jackson missed one of two free throws on the other end to make it a four point game. Carlino put up another 3, but this one finally bounced wide, and Baylor was able to finally finish off the Cougars.
"I'm really proud of our guys," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "We out rebounded them, and I think that speaks volumes to the effort that we got from our players."
Jackson has been closing out his career in style, entering Tuesday's semifinal averaging 19 points and 11.7 assists in the Bears' three NIT games. For the season, he has led the Big 12 in scoring and assists, and is on track to be the first player to lead a major conference in both since Jason Terry at Arizona in 1998-99.
He helped personally close out the Cougars with about four minutes to play. He made a mid-range rainbow to give Baylor a seven-point lead. Then he sank a 3-pointer with three-and-a-half minutes to go for a 10-point lead that seemed to settle matters.
"That was huge," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "Saved me a little hair — until Carlino started making 3s from halfcourt."
It was Jackson's third straight double-double and fifth of the season. He's reached double figures in 41 of 42 games this season. Austin got his 11th double-double.
The Cougars were blown out at Baylor in December, but hung with the Bears for the first 30 minutes of this one, and even looked like the better team at parts in the first half.
Baylor went on a 7-0 run midway through the second half to take a five-point lead, but Brandon Davies made a pair of free throws, and Carlino made his first 3- pointer to tie it with about 7:30 to play.
But Jackson took over to put Baylor and coach Scott Drew in the NIT final a year after the Bears made the NCAA's Elite Eight.
"Well, I think there's only two happy teams at the end of the year," Drew said. "The team that wins the NCAA and the team that wins the NIT. We want to be one of those happy teams."