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Baylor Stays Perfect with 84-72 Win Against Auburn

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Everything clicked in the second half as Baylor pulled away

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Baylor Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

In a touted Big XII-SEC matchup between rising star Sharife Cooper and the best backcourt in the country, the Baylor Bears held down Cooper and his Auburn Tigers for an 84-72 win in Waco.

For Baylor’s side, the three-headed attack of Jared Butler (16 points, 5 assists, 1-8 3PT), MaCio Teague 15 points, 4 rebounds, 1-5 3PT), and Davion Mitchell (13 points, 3-6 3PT) struggled early in the game to adjust to the shot blocker’s on Auburn’s defense and could never collectively find their stroke from deep. Luckily, sixth man Adam Flagler (19 points, 8 rebounds, 3-5 3PT) carried the scoring load until his teammates adjusted. Flagler was the only Baylor player to play above average in the first half. He played well off the catch and attacking rotating defenses. His aggression got him to the rim before the shot blockers could load up. Butler had success getting to the rim, but his drives largely came against a set defense, making it tough for Butler to finish his floater and shots high off the glass.

Matthew Mayer (13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 massive dunks) joined the four guards in double-figures. Mayer found creases and the loose ball, attacking baseline for a big air two hand slam, finding space at the top to receive the kickoff and drain the three. Before that, he had a monster putback dunk that had the entire Baylor bench on the floor. Today was a great example of how Mayer has matured this season. While he looked out of sorts in the first half, he was able to steady his play and be a big contributor in the second half.

Baylor won today in the same way they’ve won all year. While the game was close going into halftime, the Bears quickly put distance between themselves and the opponent in the second half. It happened in an instant. A few defensive stops here, transition layups there, and a dagger three or two changed a close game to a comfortable victory. Baylor finished the game with 11 made threes, assisted on more than half their baskets (17 assists on 31 makes), and stole the ball 7 times for 14 points off turnovers. Typical stats for a typical win.

Cooper (15 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 6-17 FG) had, as one might expect, an off game against Baylor’s switching defense. Where he found nothing but options in his first six games, he saw precious few openings today. Baylor sagged and switched on the pick-and-roll while staying home on the shooters. Cooper’s offensive special is to drive, suck in the defense, then choose between the lob pass or a kick out. With neither pass available and an All-Big XII defender in front of him (Baylor has five worthy candidates), he met his average in turnovers (4 per game, 4 today) but appreciably below his average in assists (8.6 per game, 5 today). He seemed worn down as the game progressed. Perhaps most tellingly, he finished the game with only 2 free throw attempts. He had 21 attempts and 18 makes against Missouri earlier this week.

The first half had a long feeling out period for both teams. Baylor had not faced a shot blocking team like the Tigers this season, and Auburn hadn’t felt ball pressure like the Bears bring. The offenses opened up as the half wore on and both teams started getting to the line with some tightly called fouls.

Foul trouble came up on the defensive glass for Baylor as they struggled to box out Auburn’s size inside. The big wings crashed the boards, so Auburn frequently had as many attacking for offensive rebounds as Baylor had going for defensive rebounds. Eventually, the Bears sent more players to rebound defensively to prevent Auburn from collecting too many second chance points.

Surprisingly, Baylor came away with more blocks today (7) than the country’s leading shot blocking team in Auburn (4).

Baylor, finally in the thick of their schedule, continues to impress. This Auburn team came in hot today but couldn’t hang with the Bears for more than a half.

Another chance for a signature win comes in a potential conference-defining matchup against the Texas Longhorns in Austin on Tuesday. If Baylor wins that game, they will hold a definitive edge lead in the Big XII race and give Scott Drew a great chance to win his first conference title.