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Baylor Returns with a Creaky Win

The Bears trailed much of the game but led when it counted most.

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

In their first game in 21 days, the Baylor Bears (18-0, 10-0) survived against the Iowa State Cyclones (2-17, 0-14) 77-72.

Adam Flagler had a team high 22 points to carry the Bears through the game until teammates Jared Butler (18 pts, 3-5 3PT, 3 stl) and MaCio Teague (14 pt, 5 reb, 3 ast) iced the game at the free throw line.

Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua was among the players ruled out for the game for COVID protocols.

Matthew Mayer sported a mullet.

In the final minute, Baylor held onto a thin 2-point lead. Who else, then, had the ball in his hands but Jared Butler? The All-American guard sized up his defender and got to his spot to put Baylor up by two possessions. The very next possession, Butler intercepted a desperation pass that very nearly sealed the deal for Baylor, who trailed by 17 points in the first half to the winless Cyclones.

After a Solomon Young put-back brought the game back within three, Scott Drew’s patented football inbound play earned Teague two more free throws. A half court heave by Iowa State beat the buzzer, but Butler’s free throws had iced the game already.

Mark Vital (3 pt, 15 reb, 3 blk) made winning plays when his team needed it most. Big steals, blocks, and huge rebounds put the exclamation point on his stellar defensive night. He locked down everyone from Rasir Bolton to Young, demonstrating why he is the most versatile defender in the country. Without Tchamwa Tchatchoua’s energy, it fell to Vital to bring everything. Baylor’s success tonight couldn’t have happened without Vital’s effort.

That can be equally said of Adam Flagler. His scoring, particularly in the first half, was essential to this Baylor win. As Iowa State jumped out to a 15-2 lead and the starters couldn’t find their shot, Flagler’s shooting touch from all three levels gave Baylor 7 straight points and began what was a slow climb to the lead. He made timely threes and made Butler and Mitchell look good by draining their kick out passes.

That’s really when the offense got rolling for Baylor. In the second half, all three starting guards were finding ways to get into the paint either for the shot or the kick out three. The Fival lineup, which Drew played for nearly the final 8 minutes of the game, spread Iowa State out and created the space for Baylor to dribble drive and work one-on-one, still Baylor’s advantage even after the long layoff. When Flo Thamba or Vital set a screen at the top of the arc, Baylor’s guards found room to slither into the paint and make things happen.

Unfortunately for the Bears, Iowa State’s guards matched them possession for possession. They aggressively attached the lane in transition and pulled up for some deep but deadly threes. Iowa State played Baylor tough all game. Every time Baylor tied the game or got within striking distance of the lead, Harris or Bolton would hit a big shot to push the Bears back.

As the game wore on, the foul game tipped in Baylor’s favor. Teague and Flagler drew fouls driving into the lane and started sinking big time free throws. In the final tally, Baylor was 15-21 from the free throw line while the Cyclones were only 4-5.

Baylor’s first lead of the game came from two free throws from MaCio Teague with just under five minutes remaining.

The opening defensive possession of the game was a steal leading to a fast break foul, a familiar and welcome sight for Baylor fans. On the other end, the first score of the restart was a Thamba layup of a sweet drop-off pass from Davion Mitchell, who blew past his defender driving into the lane.

Baylor’s defense was active early, but the offense was disjointed - passes just off target, cuts a step too slow, ball handlers not timing their attack with their screens. The effort was absolutely there, as the defense showed, but the refinement was lacking. Even when Baylor tightened down the screws on defense, the offense didn’t rise to take advantage. Turnovers were the major culprit, but Baylor’s shooting was almost equally off the mark. Not until the end of the first half, when Flagler dropped 7 straight points to juice the struggling offense, did Baylor begin to close the deficit with a 12-2 run.

Iowa State, meanwhile, brought their best to the game’s opening. Tyler Harris (22 pts, 5-8 3PT) opened the game 3-3 from 3PT as the Cyclones ran out to a 15-4 lead in the opening 5 minutes. Iowa State took full advantage of Baylor’s missteps, collecting 6 steals and forcing 11 turnovers. Those led to 8 first half fast break points compared to a measly 2 for the Bears.

Baylor’s next game is against West Virginia on Thursday, followed by the third game of the week against Kansas in Lawrence. There will certainly be no rest fort he rusty as the Bears will attempt to play 6 games in two weeks. As the difficulty level rapidly ratchets up, Baylor will need their all energy forward Tchamwa Tchatchoua back in the rotation soon.