Well before stepping on the floor inside the historic Jimmy Duke Arena versus an archrival, Baylor sophomore Eli Sparkman was counting down the seconds until the opening tip in a region home game Saturday.
For the second time this season, McCallie could not stop Sparkman's hot hand as he and senior Gehrig Ebel led a 51-45 victory in front of a crowd that had sold out the game two nights before.
"This rivalry is one of a kind," said Sparkman, who was 5-of-8 on 3-point shots and scored a team-high 19 points. "I have been nervous, at the same time pumped up, since about 3 o'clock today. The team has been hyped up all day just waiting for the big moment, and it worked out for us."
Including his star performance in a Best of Preps championship victory over the Blue Tornado, Sparkman has torched them for 44 points and 11 3s this season.
After draining a 25-footer at the first-quarter buzzer in front of the visitors' fans, Sparkman hit a trio of 3-pointers in the second quarter. His final 3 built his team's largest lead to 36-25 with 3:06 left in the third quarter.
"The moment is not too big for Eli," second-year Red Raiders coach Mark Price said. "He relishes playing in the big games. The other night he had the flu when we played Knox Catholic and CPA, but we couldn't convince him not to play. I am so pleased with how he embraces competition."
Baylor (12-5, 2-0 Division II-AA East Region) attacked from the perimeter early and often as 6-foot-6 junior Nick Kurtz and sophomore Al Peciulis assisted their shooter, who hit the Red Raiders' first seven of 10 long-range jumpers.
Ebel, a Virginia Tech baseball signee who sat out last basketball season, made his first three 3 tries. He also hit key free throws down the stretch as McCallie threatened late.
"If we move and fly around we will get the shots, because Nick is such an unselfish player and great passer," said Ebel, who is the only Baylor senior starter. "We work extremely hard in practice and want to keep getting better. We want to win, win, win until we can't anymore."
The Blue Tornado (10-11, 1-2) found a second-half spark as Eric Rivers finished with 21 points, two of which came off a flashy no-look left-handed layup through contact to cut the deficit to 36-31 with two minutes left in the third.
Another three-point opportunity for Rivers cut the Red Raiders' lead to 46-43 with 1:28 remaining, but Ebel sank both free throws on the other end.
McCallie's Wright Self stole an inbounds pass and Joryam Saizonou hit a putback to get the Tornado within three again with 47 seconds remaining.
With an early two-handed ferocious slam dunk and four first-half assists, Kurtz helped seal the win as he hit a layup off one of several nice finds from Sparkman with 35 seconds to go.
"There is not a hint of 'me getting mine' with any of our guys," Price said. "They share the ball well. If you would have told me we would be 12-5 right now with the youth on our team and going through this schedule, I would have signed up for that in a heartbeat. Especially with two wins against McCallie."