Baylor’s sluggishness was evident against Iowa State on Tuesday, and it was present tonight, as well. Shots were short, the defense was a half-step late, and Baylor was absolutely dominated on the glass, where the Jayhawks out rebounded the Bears 48-28. Jalen Wilson alone pulled down 14 boards.
The game really got away from Baylor nearing the 10-minute mark of the second half, just after a Baylor run had brought the game back to a three-point margin. Kansas answered the pair of Teague threes by making 4 of their next 5 shots and rebounding just about everything. At one point in the second half, Kansas had twice as many rebounds as the Bears. Kansas looked like the bigger, more energetic team for much of the second half.
The Bears would go on to fight back. Davion Mitchell (13 pts, 3 ast, 2 stl) and MaCio Teague (18 pts, 8 reb) made tough shots as Jared Butler (5 pts, 2-9 FG) and Adam Flagler (3 pts, 1-8 FG) struggled to score. Baylor had just enough offense and defense to bring the game within five points, but didn’t have quite enough to close the gap. Between David McCormack’s (20 pts, 8-10 FG) power inside and the driving ability of Marcus Garrett (14 pts, 7 rebs) and Christian Braun (11 pts, 9 rebs), Kansas had just enough answers to hold off Baylor’s signature second half hammer.
Even the Fival, which gave Baylor a 10-0 run and a lead in the first half, wasn’t enough to put Kansas away. The major the problem was shooting: Baylor shot only 23% from three tonight, well below the season average of 43%. Even wide open threes from Flagler were falling short. Butler’s inability to create anything off the dribble paired with the poor shooting spelled doom for Baylor’s chances of keeping pace with the Jayhawks, even as the defense had stretches where they held down Kansas.
The offense didn’t come out of the break firing well. There was little penetration from the guards, but Kansas kept the ball out of the paint well. Where Kansas had trouble dribbling into the lane in the first half, they found their path in the second. Baylor’s legs looked more and more tired as the game wore on.
Baylor finished the game shooting just 34.8% from the floor. Baylor’s previous worst was 41.8%.
In the first half, Kansas’ defense on the perimeter was stingy. They are switching across most matchups, and it’s kept Baylor out of the paint for the most part. McCormack had an easy time scoring inside against Baylor interior. Thamba simply wasn’t strong enough to keep getting put under the basket, and neither Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua or Matthew Mayer had the size to battle McCormack on their own.
The game was set pretty clearly from the start. Kansas’ success was going to come getting the ball inside against a smaller Baylor defense, while Baylor needed to find creases in the switching defense to drive into the lane for layups and kick-out passes. Baylor’s bigs helped create offense by sealing their defender to create space for the guards to attack. Thamba sealed so Mitchell could drive baseline and finish a reverse layup, and Teague got the the rim while Tchamwa Tchatchoua sealed the paint.
Without McCormack on the floor, Kansas’ offense became listless. Baylor’s guards could more easily jump passing lanes, gang rebound, and pass with confidence. That was until Kansas closed the first half on a 7-0 run without McCormack with pick-and-roll attacks designed to attach Thamba.
For his struggles, though, Thamba was a big part of keeping Baylor in the game through halftime. He led the team with 9 points at the break on 4-4 shooting and fought like heck on the inside, despite being outmatched. Thamba’s scoring was complemented by 7 points each from Teague and Mitchell. Butler, on the other hand, had little success dribbling into the lane in the first half and was held scoreless. Kansas defenders were quick to swarm him anytime he put it on the deck, especially when Baylor had two non-shooters on the floor.
Baylor was never going to be undefeated, and every Baylor fan was worried about this game in Lawrence after the team entered its third week of health and safety protocols. Tonight is no indictment of this team, nor does it require any kind of reckoning. As sweet as sweeping the Jayhawks to win the conference would have been, the Bears have three more shots to earn a Big XII title and get their legs ready for the Big Dance.