After dropping the previous two games at home, Baylor desperately needed a win tonight. The challenge was elevated with James Akinjo and Jeremy Sochan both out with injury. Even short-handed, Baylor held a double-digit lead into the waning seconds of the game.
Matthew Mayer scored 20 points with 4 steals and just loves playing in West Virginia. He scored 18 points in the same arena last season. It must be the mullet.
Tonight was the kind of game Baylor fans hope begins a new season for Mayer. While he has improved his game generally, the scoring had abandoned Mayer until tonight. Mayer’s performance of 6-13 FG — and 5-8 3PT — with 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals and 0 turnovers is the most complete game by a Baylor player this season.
No less important was the shooting of Cryer. His career 25 points were the result of a beautiful shooting split: 50% FG / 55% 3PT / 100% FT. Whenever Baylor needed a bucket, Cryer obliged. He did it in every way, too — off the dribble, pull-up, coming off screens, the floater. One of the best high school scorers in Texas history is beginning to learn how to translate his game to the next level.
Cryer and Mayer were a combined 10-17 from three, while the rest of the team was just 2-10.
Adam Flagler, who finished with 14 points, seemed to be having another difficult night until the home stretch of the game when he knocked down 2 threes and scored an impressive put-back after falling out of bounds. After recording 4 first half turnovers, he had 0 in the second half.
Foul trouble late had the potential to derail Baylor’s game. Both Cryer and Mayer, the two players who carried the team tonight, had 4 fouls in the final four minutes of the game.
After West Virginia gained a 3 point lead with 13 minutes remaining, a (8)-0 run for Baylor gave the Bears a (5) point lead. During the stretch, West Virginia missed 12 of 14 field goals. Five of those misses came on a single possession right around the rim. That was an area of weakness for the Mountaineers, who were only 7-22 on layups. WVU has trouble scoring inside anyway, but it was downright comical at times how the ball kept rolling off the rim at point blank range.
That was all part of another another stalwart defensive performance by the Bears, who held West Virginia to only 8 second-chance points despite 13 offensive rebounds. The game was highly physical. Both teams had shooters bumped around, and good luck scoring in the paint. The refs let this one go, and that plays just fine for a Baylor team that doesn’t rely on getting to the line to score anyway.
Baylor was energetic in the first half. During a 24-5 run, the Bears finally found their transition offense that has been missing for the last two games. Baylor had 12 points off turnovers, including 4 dunks.
Mayer had a stellar first half, leading the team with 11 points in the frame. He snagged a pair of steals and was 3-5 from deep. That half of basketball is exactly the kind of showing Baylor fans have been hoping to see from Mayer all season. He has shown a great shooting stroke in his career, and he’s really stepped up his defensive energy this season. If Mayer can string those two pieces together more often, Baylor becomes a lot more dangerous.
Other first half noteworthies: Baylor’s 16 point lead was shrunk to 4 by halftime; Tchamwa-Tchatchoua was 4-4 for 8 points; Cryer was 3-6 from three; the Bears held WVU to 0 second chance points; Flagler struggled with 4 turnovers; and Brown got up just one shot, a missed corner three following a beautiful Mayer skip pass.
Baylor showed great determination in this game. When your on-court leader is missing, it’s tough to win on the road. It’s even more difficult when that’s also the guy with the ball in his hands setting others up. Flagler and Cryer got the job done handling the ball, and Dale Bonner continues to provide survivable placeholder minutes. He even had the highest +/- of the night at 18. He forced a few shots up tonight that you wish he just dribbled out, but he moves the ball, rebounds, and defends well enough to keep things from falling apart.
Scoring 20 points off turnovers was a big part of tonight’s game, and that transition scoring was missing last week. Especially as Akinjo is on the mend, Baylor has to continue jumping passing lanes and running. Kendall Brown wasn’t much a part of the transition game, either, and he usually finds ways to impact the game there.
This was a game to build on as Baylor goes on the road again, this time to Norman, Oklahoma to face the Sooners. Baylor will be seeking a season sweep and to stay in contention for the conference title.