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No. 1 Bears Top No. 8 Cyclones in Ames 77-72

Baylor relied on a small ball lineup in key moments to win a 9th straight top 10 game

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern State at Baylor Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 1 Baylor Bears (13-0, 1-0) earned a top 10 road win over the Iowa State Cyclones (10-1, 0-1) 77-72. Baylor has now won 9 straight games against AP top 10 teams and holds the longest active win streak in the country with 19 straight wins.

Today was the first time in Big XII Conference history that two 10-0 or better teams met in conference play.

A 6-0 Cyclone run kept the game in single digits as the Bears struggled to get a basket. Tyrese Hunter (12 pts, 2 rebs, 4 asts) split a pair of free throws with 2:28 remaining the bring the score to 70-63 before a Baylor timeout.

Following the timeout, Baylor’s five-second violation led to an Iowa State score from Hunter and brought the lead down to 5.

Adam Flagler (10 pts, 5 rebs, 4 asts, 5 TOs, 0-4 3PT) answered with a clutch jumper to put the lead back to 7 with less than 2 minutes remaining.

To close out the game, Sochan replaced Mayer and split two free throws to stretch the lead back to 8.

Caleb Grill missed two straight threes before Iowa State began fouling with only 30 seconds left. Flagler and the guards made their free throws to ice the game, and the Bears made it out of Ames with a hard-fought top 10 win on the road.

James Akinjo (16 pts, 3 asts) led a balanced Bears attack. Four Bears scored in double-figures, including freshman Jeremy Sochan (12 pts, 7 rebs, 2 asts), who was pivotal in the final 10 minutes of the game.

A 4th foul against Thamba on a questionable blocking call forced Drew to go to a small-ball lineup he has avoided most of the season. Without a true big on the courts, Baylor’s three wings of Mayer, Brown, and Sochan spread the floor and swarmed defensively. Four quick points from the Bears caused a timeout from Iowa State to adjust after Baylor’s 60-49 lead.

That small ball lineup with the wings plus Flagler and LJ Cryer (13 pts, 3-5 3PT) saw a long stretch of minutes, followed only by a smaller lineup with Akinjo in for Mayer. Drew clearly has supreme confidence in these two freshmen. There might not be another wing duo in the country that can play small with three guards around them, but the Bears managed to extend a 54-48 lead into a double-digit 65-53 lead over a nearly 4-minute span.

Sochan continued the acquit himself as a bona fide small ball five with incredible play on both ends. He flashed an incredible spin move for a layup before knocking down a three at the top of the arc. It wasn’t until the 4 minute mark that Drew finally reinserted Thamba-Tchatchua, and the Bears still held a 10 point lead.

Iowa State continued to battle in the closing stretch of the game, although they couldn’t quite get the score within striking distance. The free throw disparity played a big factor. Iowa State was 21-27 from the line. The Bears were just 10-14, but only 5-5 before the final minute of the game. Those free throw rates were consistent with both teams’ seasons, but didn’t fully capture how effective Baylor was at getting into the lane on drives. The Bears simply suffer from having guards who fall away from the contact instead of driving through it.

Tristan Enaruna had a massive game with 23 points and 8 rebounds while going 7-8 from the line. His offensive rebounding bailed out a number of otherwise fruitless possessions for the Cyclones. Baylor had no real answer for him on the glass.

Akinjo made the jumper to end the first half and give the Bears a 41-33 lead. That bucket gave Akinjo 10 points in the half to lead a balanced Baylor scoring attack. Every Baylor player who saw the floor scored, including 9 huge points from Flo Thamba and 7 big ones from Matthew Mayer (9 pts, 4 rebs, 3 asts). Mayer had an excellent all-around first half with 7 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists. He impacted both ends of the court. Every offensive play felt like it put ISU just a little further away, a step that they weren’t going to be able to get back.

Early in the game, Iowa State got a big energy play from George Conditt ( 7 pts, 2 blks) blocking Flagler’s three. That turned into a dunk on the other end to tie the game at 8. Baylor answered that with a dunk for Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua (4 pts, 3 rebs, 5 fouls) out of the timeout, assisted by Mayer. In the following sequence, the block from Sochan on the perimeter set up the second straight Mayer dime, this time to Cryer for three. That stretch typified the course of the game in the first half.

Izaiah Brockington (18 pts, 8 rebs) was able to go left twice to break a 9-3 Baylor run with 8 minutes remaining. He led all first half scorers 12 points.

The defense was a big part of the early lead for the Bears. Iowa State had 8 first half turnovers to 12 made baskets. The Cyclones were also just 1-8 from three, with the single make coming with just 2 minutes left in the half. The great majority of ISU’s points came in the paint.

This win will be very valuable to have in the bank for Baylor. Ames will claim a number of victims this season. Getting out with the victory against a legitimate conference contender puts Baylor in a great position to win the Big XII for a second straight season.

Baylor’s next game will be against the Oklahoma Sooners on Tuesday, Jan 4th in Waco.