Scott Drew is a coach who lives on the silver linings, stretching them out across the entire cloud into mercurial, glistening beauty.
Imaging silver linings for a game like this 61-54 loss is difficult.
Baylor’s 11 turnovers lead to 18 points, and they got only 6 going to other way.
Down the final 9 minutes, the Baylor Bears made a valiant effort to come back. The defense put the clamps on an OSU offense that struggles to score on a good night, scoring just 6 points over 9 minutes until the 6-point run when Baylor was forced to start fouling at the end.
The defense didn’t create many fast break looks, but it gave Baylor the opportunity to claw their way back in with a few timely threes and the willful determination of Matthew Mayer. LJ Cryer flashed the scoring acumen, knocking down 4 threes on his way to 18 points. He also knocked down the two free throws that made it a 1-point, 55-54 game. He gave Baylor the chance to win a game they should have lost by 20.
Flagler, unfortunately, threw away that chance on the one good chance he had to score at the rim. With 30 seconds left, Flagler dribbled into the paint to the left side of the lane, only to lose the handle and the ball out the baseline, giving the ball back to OSU with 26 seconds remaining.
Bryce Thompson, who led the Cowboys in scoring, knocked down both free throws to make it a 57-54 game.
Unlike the finish against Tech, Baylor didn’t even get a chance to tie the game. Flagler, who again had a decent look at the rim, kicked the ball out with a weak pass that was taken away by none other than the hero Thompson. Two more free throws sealed the deal. Flagler has struggled to show he can be the guy with the ball in his hand in these consecutive losses, which were the first by a No. 1 ranked team to happen in the same week.
This was also the first time Baylor lost consecutive games since March 14th, 2019 when it lost a 4th straight game in the first round of the Big XII Tournament.
That Cryer and Mayer, the Baylor players with more than 5 points in the game, both deferred to Flagler on the final two possessions is indicative that they believe he can go get a basket in a time of need, but the junior guard has now put together consecutive bad games.
James Akinjo’s benching for the final 9+ minutes of the game is also something worth considering. Was he injured, or did Scott Drew just like what Dale Bonner, an end of the rotation type guard, was giving them? If that wasn’t Bonner’s season high in minutes, it was certainly more meaningful time than he’s seen so far.
The offense couldn’t find any way to get going. Passing was poor, shooting was poor, dribbling was poor. Baylor could not hit open threes, mid-range floaters, or get to the rim.
For Oklahoma State, the effort was superior. From the opening tip the Cowboys were running the floor hard and attacking the paint. They weren’t stellar from the floor (41.7% FG), but they took advantage of Baylor’s mistakes. Bryce Thomas led the team with 19, but 9 different OSU players scored, and 6 different players tallied an assist. They moved the ball on the break and scored just enough to win.
It was the offense that failed Baylor tonight. The Bears couldn’t find any easy baskets in this game. OSU came into tonight a highly-ranked defense, but what we say from Baylor was something else.
The three-point shooting that abandoned Baylor in the second half against Tech was wholly absent tonight. Baylor was 8-28, just 28.6% from three. Oklahoma State hard-hedged the pick and roll, not allowing the guards to get into the paint to kick to shooters or bank in shots off the glass. Akinjo was benched for Dale Bonner just when Baylor desperately needed to make a push. When the deficit was 11 points with under-8 remaining is when you bring in your most reliable players to make the push that determines if it’s going to be a close game or a blowout. Drew elected to leave his All Big XII caliber point guard on the bench for the rest of the game. That’s how badly he was playing. No shot and no aggression were coming from a guard who usually oozes toughness and determination.
Adam Flagler was no better. His first points came on a fast-break three with 5 minutes remaining. He was 0-9 before that. He had opportunities to hit a few floaters, but Oklahoma State did an excellent job running him off the line without letting him get to the basket.
Matthew Mayer was maddening, probably for both coaches. He was a total liability in the first half, providing nothing on either end. In the second half, he was 4-7 with 2 threes and 10 points, an enormous part of Baylor’s comeback attempt.
One bad game and a close home loss to Tech wasn’t terribly worrisome, especially given the matchup problems Tech’s wings present Baylor. Two showings like this in a single week, though, and consecutive no-shows from Akinjo and Flagler, the two go-to scorers on the team, is cause for worry.
What answers will Drew find? It’s hard to say. Baylor isn’t as bad as they’ve been this week, but they’ll have to find something quick if they don’t want to tumble down the league standings. Maybe it’s as simple as reinserting Sochan back in the lineup. Maybe there’s more to work through with Akinjo and Flagler than we knew.
Tuesday’s game against West Virginia in Morgantown will be a challenging time to try and put things back together.
The season’s not over, and this team has demonstrated it can play together at an enormously high level. Let’s hope it’s not a long road back.