Once again today, Baylor's men's basketball team had a chance to make a national statement on ESPN about their legitimacy, to justify the lofty rankings bestowed upon them so far and prove that the Kansas game Monday night was a fluke, not Baylor's performance to date. Instead, Baylor lost a game in which they shot a higher percentage from the field, from 3, and at the FT line. I don't know the last time that happened.
Why did it happen? The same two things that have plagued Scott Drew's teams for the last few years: rebounding and turnovers. A Baylor team with 5 players 6'7" or taller (Quincy Acy, Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller, Cory Jefferson, and Anthony Jones) was outrebounded today by a team with only two (Ricardo Ratliffe and Steve Moore). 2 of our guys will probably be drafted in the top five picks in the NBA Draft (Miller and Jones) and another might play in the NBA, too (Acy). How does that happen? How can such a long and athletic team fail so spectacularly on the boards?
I'll readily admit that I don't absolutely know the answer. Some of it is probably due to the zone defense we play almost exclusively, but I think the primary culprit is probably effort and coaching. Our players are not coached and/or motivated to pursue the ball, clean the boards, and rebound as they should. Ken Pomeroy tweeted during the game that Baylor is 220th in the entire country this season in defensive rebounding. 220th!!
I'm writing this just as the game went final with Baylor falling 89-88. That score makes the game seem closer than it really was-- Baylor didn't get to a 1-point deficit until Brady Heslip's final 3 went uncontested because Mizzou knew they already won the game. From the point where Baylor went down 12 with 5:10 left to go in the game, the hole was simply too big to overcome. Despite Pierre Jackson's heroic efforts down the stretch and a breakout performance from true freshman Quincy Miller, Baylor couldn't come back.
It is incredibly frustrating to see Baylor drop a game at home it needed to win in order to keep pace in the conference championship conversation, but there were bright spots that deserve to be highlight. The first (and arguably brightest) was the aforementioned performance of Quincy Miller, who followed up on his previous best game yet against Kansas with an outstanding game today. He scored 29 points in 31 minutes on 12-17 shooting from the field and 4-5 from the free throw line. He also added 4 rebounds and 2 blocks. He was the best offensive option until Jackson caught fire late in the game for a team that sorely needed the offense. The second was a familiar name in this context, Pierre Jackson, who almost single-handedly brought Baylor back into the game. Starting at 3:40 left in the game and Baylor down 11, Jackson found Heslip for an open 3 to cut it to 8, made an and-1 to cut it again to 7, scored on a contested layup, and then hit a 3. Baylor went from down 11 to down 4 in 3 minutes almost entirely because of Jackson's energy and relentless drive. He finished the game with 20 points on 7-10 shooting from the field (3-5 from 3) and 15 (!!!) assists. Scott Drew needs to end the farce of Walton starting for Baylor yesterday. Everyone knows who runs this team at the PG position.
Of course, one of the major reasons Baylor needed Miller and Jackson to play so well to even have a chance at this game is that Perry Jones III basically never got off the bus. In a game where a possible first overall pick could and should dominate against a much smaller team, PJ3 looked like the same timid and frail freshman we saw much of the year last year. He didn't take, much less make, a shot of any kind in the last 5:20 of the game. This is the guy that is supposed to be our best player! You have to go all the way back to 7:50 in the second half to find his last points.
I don't claim to be a basketball expert and I know I overreact during games, especially on twitter. I also know that thermhere absolutely hates it. I hope that's not what has kept him away from the board. If it has, I apologize to him for that. As I said before, though, it is just incredible frustrating that 10 years into the Scott Drew era, despite a monumental increase in the talent level of our team, we're still making the same mistakes and having the same fatal flaws. Therm said on twitter that this team is still going to get a top-4 seed and that the drama queens (he was talking to me without overtly calling me out) need to calm down. He's probably right on the former and definitely right on the latter.
I just hate to see a team that should be so much better than it is and that we thought had finally reached its potential come crashing down and validate everything said about it. Maybe this will be a learning experience. Maybe we needed another game like this to prove to ourselves that Kansas was not a fluke. Maybe we use it as a springboard to correct those flaws. Hopefully.
Just a few more thoughts from the game:
- How does Anthony Jones get so many shots blocked? He's 6'10"!
- Phil Pressey is fast. Ratliffe dominated our bigs.
- Brady Heslip is not a very good defender. Neither is Gary Franklin.
- I'm ok with A.J. Walton taking that three late in the game, despite his shooting percentage. He was wide open.
- I'm not in any way blaming the refs for anything, but there were quite a few ticky tack fouls in this game. And a few inexplicable calls like the one on Walton when the Missouri player forearm checked him near the sideline.
- Baylor's rotation really only included 6 players today, which is very strange for Drew. 8 players played more than 10 minutes, but Gary Franklin and Anthony Jones only just barely qualified for that at 10 and 11 minutes, respectively. Could this be a sign of things to come around tournament time?