NEW YORK (AP) RayJ Dennis scored 22 of his 24 points in the second half and added eight assists to lead No. 13 Baylor to a 95-91 win over Florida on Friday in the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off.

Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchuoa, a 6-foot-8 backup forward, hit a 3-pointer - his only basket of the game - to snap a tie and put Baylor (6-0) ahead for good with 9:56 left as the Bears won their seventh regular-season tournament title under 21-year coach Scott Drew, their fifth since 2016.

“Most teams that did well in these preseason tournaments, usually, it bodes well for postseason, because you’ve got to have something to you to win tournaments like this,” said Drew, who coached Baylor to the national title in 2021.

Jalen Bridges scored 23 points while Langston Love had 16 points and Ja’Kobe Walter 11 for the Bears, who shot 56% from 3-point distance (14 of 25) after shooting just 38.9% (7 of 18) in Wednesday’s 88-72 win over Oregon State.

“I think more time in the arena helped,” Drew said. “I think they felt more comfortable and we just took what the defense gave us.”

Riley Kugel had 25 points and nine rebounds for Florida (4-2), which was trying to win its third regular-season tournament title since 2019. Tyrese Samuel had 18 points, Zyon Pullin scored 17 points and Walter Clayton Jr. added 11 points for the Gators.

The teams were tied 41-41 at halftime. After Florida scored the first seven points, Baylor responded with a 27-10 surge and twice led by as many as 11.

Kugel opened the second half with a dunk for Florida, but the Gators missed 14 of their next 16 shots and fell behind 59-52 when Love sank a pair of free throws with 13:02 left. Kugel converted a 3-point play to begin a 7-0 run that he ended with a fast break layup.

After Tchatchuoa’s 3-pointer, Bridges followed with another 3-pointer on the next possession for Baylor and Florida could not catch up.

“Their third-string center hit that big pick-and-pop 3 in the middle of the floor,” Florida coach Todd Golden said. “Hit two or three in a row as a team. That was the separation.”

Dennis was named the tournament MVP. He was joined on the all-tourney team by Bridges and Walter as well as Florida’s Pullin and Samuel.


Baylor: Reserves scored 26 points for the Bears, including 14 in the second half when Walter - who scored a game-high 24 points Wednesday - was limited to two minutes by foul trouble.

“This is certainly the deepest team that I’ve been on in my four years playing and five years total being in college,” Bridges said. “From one to 13, we’re super talented.”

Florida: The Gators played without 7-foot-1 sophomore Micah Handlogten, who suffered an ankle injury in the opening minute of Wednesday’s 86-71 win over Pitt. Clayton Jr. was also hampered by an illness.

“It didn’t affect us on the offensive end, we still scored 91,” Golden said of Handlogten's absence. “It was more about the defensive end, I think, where it affected us.”


Baylor: Heads home to host Nicholls State on Tuesday.

Florida: Plays at Wake Forest on Wednesday.


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