After falling behind 44-15 in the first half, Baylor chipped away in the second to bring the game within 5 points with 3:45 remaining. It looked like Baylor might really do the thing and come all the way back from an unreal deficit, but a poor shot choice from three by Mario Kegler followed by a poor live-ball turnover by Makai Mason leading to an and-one for Wichita State stretched the lead back to 10 for the Shockers and an eventual 8 point loss for the Bears.
Baylor’s offense in the second half played under control, finding the open man and working the ball inside-out and side to side until the defense showed a weakness. Tristan Clark got going in the low post, and a bowed-up defense created turnovers and allowed the Bears to get out in transition for easy buckets — something that did not happen in the first half. Clark and Kegler lead the Bears with 12 points apiece and contributed 14 combined rebounds, including 7 offensive rebounds. Clark also showed up on the defensive end with 3 blocks.
Mark Vital had perhaps his best individual performance of the season. Staying out of foul trouble, he scored 9 points on 3-4 shooting and added 8 boards, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks. He is the glue of this team. His dirty work and timely scores were a big part of Baylor’s unexpected comeback attempt.
Despite an offensive uptick in the second half, Baylor only totaled 5 assists on 23 made baskets. That is no formula for success, especially with 14 turnovers. Good free throw shooting (13-16) and transition scoring were the Bears’ best mode of offense in this one.
Baylor is a balanced team. When the offense is under control and scoring with some frequency, that allows the defense to settle. If they can’t manage to score or if turnovers get out of control, the defense suffers. Likewise, Baylor’s offense isn’t one that can withstand a bad defensive night. They don’t shoot the lights out, and they have a hard time pushing the pace when inbounding after an opponent make.
All this was on display tonight. In the second half, Baylor managed to minimize mistakes, score regularly, and play with the pace under control. That forced Wichita State to take more contested shots and to turn the ball over.
The first half was an entirely difference story.
Baylor played one of the worst first halves of basketball imaginable. Wichita State opened the game with a 12-0 run, and it only got worse from there. Baylor surrendered 44 first half points, 9 threes, 9 assists, 9 offensive rebounds, and 9 turnovers. The Bears scored the fewest points in a half for the school since February of 2006 with only 15.
Individually, no Baylor player could get anything going. The Bears could not get the ball to Clark in the post, and he struggled from the mid-post and elbow. Wichita State’s guards did not allow him enough room to make a move away from the basket, resulting in several turnovers. The Bears were only 1-12 from three, their only hit came from a long pull-up shot by Butler, who also had a nifty spinning layup just a few possessions earlier.
Wichita’s defense disrupted everything Baylor wanted to do on offense. Baylor had minimal activity towards the rim. When they did manage to find a crease, Wichita quickly collapsed in and crowded the ball handler to force a desperation shot attempt or a turnover. The passing lanes were clogged, and even when there was a little space, Baylor could not take advantage of them.
The first half was one of the most abysmal halves by Baylor under Scott Drew. Even after bringing the game back within reach in the second half, Baylor does not look like a team who will challenge for the top half of the Big XII this season. We knew coming into the year that it might take time for all of these freshmen and transfer players to gel as a team. Now, after being completely dismembered by the Shockers in one half and only holding par in the other, Baylor looks like a team that will have to fight to reach the NIT, never mind the NCAA Tournament.
Baylor still has two more shots at signature wins before conference play begins. They will play at Arizona in two weeks and home against Oregon the week following. If Baylor is to make the Tournament this season, it needs to make a convincing case in those two games, not to mention handle business at Stephen F. Austin the game in between.