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Matthew Mayer Time: How a Key Stretch by Baylor’s Junior Fueled the Bears Win

The Bears needed Mayer’s play when Mitchell and Vital picked up four fouls

NCAA Basketball: Central Arkansas at Baylor Tim Flores-USA TODAY Sports

Ames, Iowa- Baylor knocked off Iowa State76-65, but they would admit it wasn’t their best day. The Cyclones led midway through the second half.

The Bears entered the day No. 1 nationally in 3-point percentage. They started 0-of-6. Even after hitting 2-of-3 triples to start the second half, the Bears then missed their next five.

With 10 minutes left, the Bears trailed by a point. And on a day when the Bears couldn’t shoot—they started 12-of-19 from the free throw line too—the Bears faced a crisis. Mark Vital had four fouls. And Davion Mitchell—perhaps the Bears’ best player for the first 30 minutes—picked up his fourth personal.

Scott Drew inserted Mayer into the lineup. Mayer has oscillated between unbelievable potential and catastrophe waiting to happen during his first two years in Waco. At 6-foot-9 and with a sweet shot and adept handle, Mayer can do things nobody else can do. But when someone understands their potential, it’s difficult to take a step back and embrace that tomorrow’s skills may not be there today. For all the best moments Mayer’s had, he’s had stretches where he makes mistakes that Baylor can’t afford.

Today Mayer showed his maturity. Solomon Young proved a menace with 15 points. The Cyclones tried to get him the ball while they trailed 58-55 with about eight minutes left; Mayer made tried the key word in that sentence. He intercepted the pass, which kept the ‘Clones at bay.

On the next offensive possession, Mayer drove the lane and got stuck. In prior seasons, Mayer might let a good play justify him taking a bigger risk. He had a chance to go up against Young. But Mayer looked to get a teammate involved. He understood there was a better option than the one that offered him the biggest personal payoff. On the drive he found Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, which necessitated a late Iowa State foul to prevent an easy dunk. Mayer played the percentages, and the odds came out in Baylor’s favor.

Baylor played about a “C-” level game today offensively. They may not shoot that poorly from beyond the arc the rest of the season. But winning the Big 12 and making a Final Four requires getting through days when your performance isn’t close to your best. It takes key stretches that prevent comebacks. Mayer embraced his role, and the Bears won.

Jared Butler and Mitchell rightfully garner the most attention—they’re phenomenal players—but a championship team needs guys to come off the bench and perform. Few teams have someone as talented as Mayer there, and today he showed few have many playing so wisely.