Despite poor shooting from deep, Mark Vital’s defense saved the day, and Baylor (8-1) beat Butler (9-1) 53-52. Baylor takes on Tennessee Martin at 9:00 on December 18th in Houston.
The Bears had the ball up 53-52 with 1:02 left. Baylor would not score the rest of the way. And with eight seconds left, Butler isolated Kamar Baldwin on Mark Vital. Baldwin drove to the hoop and rose for a shot. He entered the game as the 10th best player in KenPom’s rankings. But Vital blocked the layup and the ball went off Baldwin. MaCio Teague was fouled on the inbound, and he missed the first attempt of the one-and-one. Butler rebounded and had .6 seconds left to attempt a final shot. Baldwin couldn’t get the final look off in time, and it missed anyway to secure the Baylor victory.
While the game was close late, Baylor rolled to an early lead. The Bears built 14-5 and 28-12 leads in the first half. That was an impressive start for Baylor without Tristan Clark. The preseason All-Big 12 selection missed the game with knee soreness. Baylor has not announced a timeline on his injury.
Vital was a menace early, as he had a block, charge, assist and offensive rebound before the first timeout. MaCio Teague started with seven quick points.
Butler closed the gap at halftime, but the Bears still led 34-24. Baylor held Butler to just .8 points per possession in the first half. That total is worse than the nation’s worst offense averages, and is especially impressive considering Butler entered the game No. 12 in adjusted offensive efficiency.
The Bulldogs made a run in the second half. Butler cut Baylor’s lead to 47-43 with eight minutes left. And Baylor led just 51-49 with 4:15 left. But the Bears had two good defensive possessions, and Jared Butler hit Vital for a layup. Unfortunately Baylor couldn’t pull away, as the game remained close throughout.
Credit Butler for making runs in the second half. They worked the ball around and found Sean McDermott for a couple of big triples, and Baldwin finished with 19 points. Many of his makes were about one of the country’s best players rising and creating shots; there are plenty of reasons the Bulldogs were undefeated and ranked No. 18, and they tested Baylor to the end.
The Bears couldn’t make much from deep. They finished just 6-of-27 from beyond the arc.
Baylor now has three wins against top 20 opponents (Arizona, Villanova and Butler). They had a terrible offensive performance in the second half, but they held Butler to 52 points. Baylor has plenty to work on, especially if Clark misses much time, but it’s easier to work on getting better when a team has three top 20 wins.