Like almost every loss this season, today’s game was within reach for Baylor. A Devonte Bandoo finger roll with 3 minutes remaining closed the game to 6 points. The signature Allen Field House Referee Advantage, however, helped Kansas ice away the game with touch fouls on one end and swallowed whistles on the other. You know which end was which.
Baylor couldn’t buy a three all game, no matter how open the look. Even Bandoo missed multiple wide open threes. Coming into today’s game, the Bears were shooting 34.5% from three. Today, they were 19% (6-31). If Baylor shot even a meager 30% from three, that would have been another 12 points and a completely different ball game.
As Makai Mason sat out to rest his still injured toe, Jared Butler had a phenomenal game. He scored a career-high 31 points on 10-21 FG with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. No matter who Kansas threw at him, Butler found a way to take him to the rim for points or the foul. Devon Dotson, a leading contender for Big XII freshman of the year, was on skates the entire game trying to stay in front of Butler.
Mark Vital was the only other Bear to have anything approaching a typical game. Mario Kegler and Bandoo both reached double-digits, but their contributions provided relatively little impact on the momentum of the game. Vital’s rebounding effort was outstanding, essentially considering KU’s massive size advantage with Dedric Lawson and David McCormack.
Those two Jayhawks were essential for Bill Self today. In the first half, it felt like McCormack couldn’t miss from the paint. In the second, Lawson built himself a condo at the line, where he finished 11-12 and earned a double-double in the second half alone.
King McClure is still struggling to find himself after returning from injury. He was 1-10 from the field and seemed to float through the game. Freddie Gillespie, too, had relatively little impact. Baylor fans have grown accustomed to seeing him with a line of 8 points, 6 rebounds, but KU’s interior size and athleticism gave him trouble all game. In his place, Flo Thamba looked every bit the freshman big, no more so than when he was pegged for a flagrant 1 foul against Lawson for a flailing arm to the face. That (questionable) foul call gave Kansas the momentum it needed to stretch a 5 point game into a 14 point lead nearing the halfway point of the second half.
Speaking of questionable fouls and momentum, today was the prototypical Allen Field House game. Every time it felt like Baylor might take control of the game in the second half, a touch foul here or a no-call there stymied Baylor’s mojo. I’m pretty sure Dotson did the Cha-Cha right in front of a ref without the travel being called, never mind his earning an iffy call on one end while Bandoo was deprived the same foul the following play.
Ultimately, this game came down to Baylor’s inability to hit a three. If Bandoo had gotten hot or if McClure had hit even a couple of his wide-open chances, the Bears would have brought this game down to the wire. Baylor shot 39% from the floor and 19% from three and only lost by 8 in Lawrence. This game was within reach, and the Bears just couldn’t get ahold of it.
Regardless of today’s outcome, Baylor will still face Iowa State in the second round of the BIG XII Tournament next week. The Bears are will mostly likely earn an 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but an impressive conference tournament run could bump them up to the 7 line. That would be a huge difference, giving them a much weaker opening opponent and putting them on the 2-seed’s seed of the bracket. As it stands, they would have to face the 1-seed if they can escape the 8-9 game.
Baylor-Iowa State will tip at 11:30am this Thursday in Kansas City. If Mason and McClure can come back in near top form, Baylor has a good chance to beat the Cyclones 3 times this season.