Sophomore guards King McClure and Jake Lindsey turned a blowout into a celebration for Baylor. McClure poured in 15 second half points (including the game sealing free throws) while his backcourt classmate turned back-to-back steals into layups on the other end that seemed to break Louisville’s spirit and inject life into the Baylor sideline.
The inflection point of the game came just under the 14-minute mark. McClure drained back-to-back threes to change a 46-30 runaway loss into a potential comeback. His teammates picked up on the momentum, and next time down the floor Jo Lual-Acuil sprinted for a breakaway dunk off a Louisville miss, assisted by the King himself. To top it off, McClure forced a turnover and earned a breakaway slam to bring the game back to single digits after a Louisville three had stretched the lead back to eleven. If you’re keeping track at home, McClure scored or assisted 10 straight points for the Bears just when hope seemed lost.
Baylor’s second half defense was huge. Louisville had had its way in the first, hitting both tough floaters and easy back cuts. Deceptively, however, it was really Baylor’s poor offense that allowed Louisville to be so effective. The Cardinals often scored against a scrambling defense and by grabbing offensive rebounds before Baylor’s players could find someone to box out. In the second half, the Bears stopped turning the ball over and simply started hitting jumpers. Making these shots allowed their man-to-man defense to get set and force Louisville to take lots of long twos that just didn’t fall.
Terry Maston and Johnathan Motley managed to support their backcourt teammates once the Bears got rolling. Motley and Maston both found their offensive rhythm - hitting open jumpers and up-faking defenders to create lanes to the rim - but it was their defensive mobility that helped stave off any Cardinal counterattack. Both bigs moved their feet well to contain penetration off the pick and roll while also using their length to bother a pass to the rolling big man. By keeping the ball out of the middle, Baylor could stay at home on Louisville’s better shooters and prevent clean looks. Lindsey and McClure used their length to both passing lanes and grab tough rebounds. Those two won’t suddenly earn starting spots over Manu Lecomte or Al Freeman, but the sophomores earned their long stretch of play in the comeback while the starters sat on the bench. The only reason Drew took Lindsey out for Lecomte at the end, presumably, was for free throws. Otherwise, Drew rode with the unit that got him there.
Oh, and Acuil tallied 6 blocks. Big Jo now has 25 blocks through 6 games and has come up big at the rim in both of Baylor’s highest profile wins this season.
Eight of the nine Bears who saw the floor scored, and the only player who didn’t - Ish Wainright - tallied 8 rebounds and 5 assists along with excellent defense and ball movement. After a putrid first half of offense, Baylor settled in, gained confidence, and put Louisville on their heels. The Bears were clearly the aggressors in the second half, and it paid off at the free throw line (Baylor had 17 FTs to Louisville’s 10) and in the assist category, where Baylor had a 17 to 11 advantage. The Bears were decisive and forceful in the second half. Louisville, who could do no wrong for the first 16 minutes or so, relaxed just enough for Baylor to find their jump shot and pull the game back.
In the first half, Baylor couldn’t get any offensive flow. Louisville’s ball pressure made the Bears extremely uncomfortable, leading to turnovers and poor passing. Once the lead stretch to 19-4 with 10 minutes remaining in the half, too often a Baylor player tried to make something out of nothing and only found himself in a crowd of red. It didn’t help that even open looks - including two corner three attempts from Freeman and a couple of mid-range jumpers from Maston, typically high quality shots - wouldn’t fall for Baylor as Louisville made even the silliest of contested floaters. Eventually Baylor settled in and went on a 14-7 run in the final four minutes to close the half, narrowing the margin to 39-24 and preserving the potential for an unlikely comeback.
After entering the season without an AP preseason vote, Baylor looks poised to bound into the top ten with style having now tallied three wins over Top 25 opponents and two more wins over strong teams in VCU and Florida Gulf Coast. The Bears are on their most impressive start to a season since rolling 17-0 in the 2011-12 season. Baylor also began 6-0 in 2014, but the quality of win has been much higher this year.
Baylor will be home for the remainder of the non-conference slate and next plays on Wednesday against Sam Houston State before squaring off against Xavier on Saturday December 3rd. If you can make it to the Ferrell Center, do. This team deserves your love and affection.