Isaiah Taylor’s game-winning overtime shot Monday earned him the title “hero” — but it was really Prince Ibeh who wore the cape in the team’s huge win over No. 14 Baylor.
Although he scored no points, grabbed just three rebounds, and was ejected in overtime, the junior center was the best player on the floor.
And it was all because of his defense.
In the closing seconds of regulation with the game tied, Baylor senior Kenny Chery came off a screen to a mismatch at the top of the arc. The 5-foot-11 point guard was isolated against the 6-foot-10 Ibeh. A quick move gave Chery a step or two on the towering Ibeh, and it looked like he was going to have an easy lay-up to put the Bears up. But — somehow, someway — Ibeh recovered and swatted Chery’s shot to save the game.
“I thought I had a clear lane,” said Chery, “But, obviously, he kept playing, and he blocked it. There’s nothing I can do about that.”
The defensive skills Ibeh showed weren’t isolated to that moment. He’s been showing them since his emergence in Manhattan, Kansas, nearly a month ago.
Until that game, Ibeh struggled to find the court. He was averaging just over eight minutes a game in the first-half of conference play after averaging over 13.5 against the Big 12 last year.
“We need to score,” Barnes said a few weeks ago on why Ibeh doesn’t get more minutes. “His problem has been the same. It’s consistency.”
On that Saturday afternoon, he got 20 minutes off the bench and forced Kansas State forward Thomas Gipson into a difficult shot to seal the all-important victory.
“You have to give Prince credit,” junior forward Connor Lammert said after that game. “He earned it today because of his defense. Prince is key for us, and we need that from him each game.”
Ibeh heeded the call. In the eight games since the game against Kansas State, Ibeh has seen his minutes increase to around 11 a game. He doesn’t light up the stat sheet; in fact, he’s only averaged 1.5 shot attempts per game in that stretch with nearly all of those coming off of alley-oops.
“He is our best defender in the post,” Barnes said. “We’re not expecting him to score.”
He has more blocks in that time span (17) than shot attempts (12).
“He’s got a second bounce to him,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “I thought several times Prince jumped at a three-pointer, got down and still was able to get back in the play. Normally, when you have a seven footer jumping for a blocked shot at the three, it takes four days for him to get back down in the paint — he is obviously a talent.”
Texas will need Ibeh to maintain his presence as defensive force as it hosts Kansas State at 3 p.m. Saturday in yet another game they must win as it rides that fine line that is the NCAA tournament bubble.
“If we lose, we know our chances of getting in NCAA tournament are about non-existent,” senior forward Jonathan Holmes said.