Baylor’s defense down the stretch helped them maintain the lead. Timely baskets from Jared Butler (19 points, 4 assists) helped keep the offense afloat when Tech turned up the defensive pressure. Jarrett Culver (19 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists) did all the could to bring Tech back into the game. Freddie Gillespie (6 points, 5 rebounds), however, was Baylor’s surprising hero, hitting 4 late free throws to keep Tech at arms length. Makai Mason (16 points, 2 assists) and Devonte Bandoo iced the game at the line for the Bears, giving them 4 points from the line as the game closed.
Tech’s 11-0 run in the second half brought them back from from 55-42 to 55-53 before a pull-up Butler three broke the drought and made the score 58-53 for the Bears. Following a Culver miss, Butler again stepped up with an and-1 layup in traffic.
When Baylor went big and played Mario Kegler and Gillespie together, Tech made a run. Those two didn’t have the foot speed on defense to continue hassling the Raiders, which allowed them to get the ball into the middle and score on cuts and short range jumpers. On the other end, the lack of shooting offered by the combination of Gillespie, Kegler, and Vital limited Baylor’s offense. Tech’s defense was able to settle in and perform to expectations.
Ball movement and transition offense helped Baylor overcome Tech’s suffocating defense for much of the game. Butler and King McClure (8 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists), especially, generated turnovers.
Jared Butler dominated the opening couple of minutes in the 2nd half. He had all the Bear’s first 8 points after halftime. His play remained solid for the rest of the game. His defense really disrupted Tech’s passing lanes and Culver’s rhythm while creating transition opportunities for himself and others.
When the offense got stagnant in the middle minutes of the second half, offensive rebounding gave Baylor the extra possessions it needed to manufacture points. The three point shooting continued to serve Baylor well, even if they did take a few too early in the clock, going 4 of 9 after making 7-18 in the first.
Baylor surpassed all expectations in the first half, taking a 33-31 lead to the locker room despite trailing 19-7 after the first 7 minutes. Their success was largely due to their team defense. Tech suffered a 10 minute cold streak, failing to score a field goal from the 11:38 mark until just before the half’s final minute.
Mark Vital (6 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) was the key on offense. His offensive rebounding and passing fueled Baylor’s offense. He managed to tally 5 offensive rebounds and 5 assists in the first half alone, and most of those assists were to three-point shooters following a drive into the paint or an offensive board. His energy and basketball intelligence make him an immensely valuable player on a team whose current big man rotation has several sub-standard players. Drew might do well to make him the full-time center on defense and part-time point guard on offense. His handle is a little loose, but he’s far and away Baylor’s most capable drive-and-kick creator.
As a team, Baylor shot 7-18 (39%) from three in the first half, helping to offset the fact that the referees awarded them 0 free throw attempts.
Jarrett Culver was effective (6 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists), but didn’t have the ball in his hands enough down the stretch of the first half.
King McClure and Makai Mason were a combined 5-8 from deep in the first half.
Baylor seems to have found an identity after losing its best player in Tristan Clark. They have picked up the tempo and defensive intensity, getting out in transition more. They are also putting the ball in Vital’s hands more with shooters around him. The shift has unlocked Baylor’s outside shooting, which was catastrophic while Clark was still playing. That’s not to say it’s Clark’s fault, of course. It just shows the lineups Drew was using earlier this season put too many non-shooters on the floor together. Now there isn’t a choice but to put three or four guards on the court at once.
This is a fantastic win for the Bears and goes a long way in building an NCAA Tournament resume.
Baylor’s next game will be Monday in Morgantown against the West Virginia Mountaineers, who took down the Kansas Jayhawks earlier in the day.