The Bears fell just short of a comeback in Fort Worth on Saturday afternoon, putting them behind the curve as Iowa State comes to town for the conference home opener. If Baylor wants to make a run at the tournament in March, two major freshman contributors will have to continue to provide a spark off the bench.
I was at the Ferrell center to watch Baylor take on Oregon and I came away thoroughly impressed with Jared Butler. At the end of the night his stats didn’t jump out at me, but it was the little things he did that really made a difference. He created shots by penetrating to the lane, had crisp passes, played solid defense and made breaking the press look easy. It looks like he has already gained the long-term trust of Coach Drew as well. In both the TCU and Oregon games Butler was on the floor at critical moments down the stretch; Coach Drew opted to go with the young freshman guard over an upper-classman. Just from the naked-eye, it seems like Butler is playing as confident as any other guard on the team.
Another freshman, Matthew Mayer, almost single handedly kept Baylor in the game against TCU. He scored 17 points off the bench, including an emphatic statement dunk on a fast break. Mayer was not in the game during the last 8 minutes which was perplexing to some fans. It’s understandable for the coaching staff to trust the more veteran players down the stretch of a game, but I hope that Mayer’s minutes continue to grow. He’s been inconsistent this season, but in a year where the Bears have shot the ball so poorly, I am willing to take our chances with Mayer. He has the “eye of the tiger” every time he takes the floor like he has a job to accomplish and won’t be stopped.
It’s encouraging to see both Mayer and Butler playing with so much confidence early in their careers. They might be the jolt that this Baylor team needs to keep them in the conversation for a post-season tournament berth further down the road.