With 7 seconds remaining, Baylor had the ball down 77-75. Lester Medford brought the ball up, went behind his back to initiate his dribble, and slipped, losing the ball in the process. In some ways, it was a perfect representation of Baylor's entire performance.
The game was frequently there for Baylor to take. Yale's second best player, Justin Sears, was in foul trouble all game. Yale shot nearly 70% from the floor in the first half despite taking many contested jumpers, yet Baylor trailed by only 5 points at the half. Baylor's defense on Makai Mason, who was the best player on the floor, was decent in the second half. Yet...
Baylor played recklessly, aimlessly, and sloppily in turns. The team defense was abysmal all game. The zone was ineffective as Yale based around it, and the man-to-man defense was inane. Players were frequently confused on how to defend a screen. Off-ball defenders were caught ball watching every third play and were back cut as a consequence. Defense was an issue for this team all season, but this was one of its worse showings that also happened to be on a national stage, where every mistake is amplified.
Mason was masterful for his team from the opening tip. He finished with 31 points on 9-18 shooting from the floor and 11-11 from the line. His shooting from the mid-range was impeccable, and he had both Medford and Al Freeman outclassed the entire first half, making shots even when they managed to hang with him. Jake Lindsey's length was able to both Mason more in the second half, but Mason was still able to make key plays - or draw key fouls - when his team needed them. Mason deserves respect for playing the game of his life in the biggest moment.
It's tough watching your team play in such a discombobulated way. Even during the comeback at the end of the game, it never felt fluid. Ish Wainright and Taurean Prince simply made plays, willing the team back into the game. Wainright's defense, passing, and effort were on point all game, and that crucial foul call against him at the end of the game is nigh unexplainable. He'll have another shot at a Tournament run next season, and Baylor will rely heavily on the rising senior to fill in the cracks.
Prince put his full self on display. He was energetic, reckless, out of control, and spectacular. His short scuffle with Gathers on the bench (I presume Gathers was calling Prince out for a series of dumb plays that preceded the timeout) had a bad appearance but came from a place of competitiveness that I think his teammates and coaches understood. Prince's herky-jerky game relies, to some extent, on drawing fouls as defenders have difficulty containing him. The referees did not give Prince many calls. In fact, Prince did not go to the free throw line even once. As a player who averages 4.4 trips per game, it must have been frustrating for Prince to not receive calls, despite some physical defense by the Bulldogs.
All I'll say about the refereeing is this: It was frequently questionable, and rarely did Baylor receive the benefit of a dubious call or non-call.
Being upset in the first round two years in a row is disappointing in much the same way as losing two BCS bowls in a row. This Tournament is the pinnacle of collegiate basketball, and to earn a bid requires a tremendous amount of work and success. That Baylor has ended the last two seasons with such a lack of discipline and soundness is troubling. How Scott Drew fills the vacant assistant coach position left by McCasland will be hugely important for counteracting the doubts that will be cast his way. Baylor's teams have struggled to be disciplined at crucial moments in big games this season and last. A new voice, and the right one, will need to help correct that.
All that aside, this was a good season for Baylor, and the future looks bright with all the bright young talent. Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers, and Lester Medford will leave enormous holes to be filled. John Heard and Austin Mills will undoubtedly be missed as well. Those five made great contributions to building Baylor's program to this high level. Baylor is headed in the right direction, despite today's outcome. Prince and Gathers leave behind a great legacy that will stand as an example for every player who comes into the program: hard work pays off.