Down to a lower seeded team at halftime, the hot takes about this team being overrated and ready to lose for a third straight year began. But this team has often made a group that gave them zero preseason votes look foolish. They had no problem doing that again. Powered by a 32-6 run in the second half, Baylor is headed to the next round of the NCAA Tournament with a 91-73 win over New Mexico State.
New Mexico State was on a mission to make the second round. The Aggies entered the game 241st in 3-point percentage on KenPom. They went back-to-back-back from deep in the first half, and ended the half 6-of-14.
Johnathan Motley picked up a garbage second foul call with 10 minutes left in the first half. He was called for an illegal screen on two plays, and as a result, he sat the remainder of the half. The Aggies were able to make a run after that.
The Bears played well offensively in the first half, which kept them in a game where the Aggies couldn’t miss. Al Freeman came off the bench and nailed three 3-point shots. Terry Maston was often wide open from 18-feet, and he had 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting. With those performances, Baylor managed to be down only 40-38 at halftime. An impressive feat considering New Mexico State’s first half offensively.
But the 2017 Bears are a good defensive team. They spent most of the year in the top 10 defensively on KenPom. New Mexico State rarely gets blocked. The Aggies rarely face Jo Lual-Acuil:
Jo Lual-Acuil! pic.twitter.com/TJM5E22lER— Kendall (@kkaut) March 17, 2017
The Bears blew the game open with a 53 point second half. New Mexico State never really had a plan to defend Terry Maston. He shoots from 18-feet, and that’s normally not an efficient shot. But then again, Maston has never really fit the prototypical mold of a guy his size.
Al Freeman had his best game as a Bear. He had 21 points and was active offensively. Baylor fell behind 11-3. Then Freeman battled and attacked. He forced defenders in the air and jumped into them to get to the line. This was everything you hoped he could be.
Credit to Scott Drew and the staff for switching to man-to-man defense in the second half. New Mexico State normally can’t shoot, so it’s understandable Baylor opened in zone and wanted to make the Aggies beat them from the perimeter. Once they did, Baylor adjusted. New Mexico State ended up like someone in a midlife crisis: perpetually stuck in the 40s.
The Bears will take on the winner of SMU-USC on Sunday. We’ll know the time for that one at the end of the day.
This was the best of Baylor basketball. Anytime they were tested they responded, and players who missed games earlier in the season brought everything today.
32 teams remain and 31 will have their season end in depressing fashion. But this afternoon Baylor showed they’re not like everybody else.