“Well, we like this feeling a little better than the last two home games,” Drew said after the game. “Defensively, anytime you hold a Big XII team to 31, 32%, you’re doing something really well.”
LJ Cryer led the team with 14 points, Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua contributed a 13 point, 12 rebound double-double, and Jeremy Sochan had 5 points with 1 block and 2 steals in his first game back from an ankle injury suffered against Texas Tech on January 11th.
The limitations of the K-State roster were apparent early in this one. Lacking size on the wing, the Wildcats could not take advantage of the Bears’ switching style. Where Texas Tech can take advantage of smaller guards switching onto them, Kansas State just got stonewalled on the perimeter. They briefly found some success by sending Tchamwa-Tchatchoua’s man to the corner when he was switched onto a guard, but Baylor found ways to adjust and keep a defender in the paint after K-State had a few open drives to the rim.
The Bears looked like themselves for the first time in a while, even without starting point guard James Akinjo, who is still out with a tailbone bruise. Kansas State shot just 32% from the floor and had only 20 points in the paint compared to Baylor’s 38. The reality is that Baylor put a around the paint, and K-State lacked the muscle to push through.
With Kansas State coming off an outstanding shooting performance against Kansas, Baylor had to be focused on preventing those shots from even going up.
“We knew coming in they would be really confident. We just had to lock in,” Kendall Brown said after the game.
Drew noted how having strong bench contributions helped improve the defense tonight: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all. When you get depths, it helps you. I thought Dale played great minutes. Having Jeremy back was huge.”
Baylor took control of this game early with an 18-3 scoring run in the first half. Without even 10 minutes gone by, Flagler made a pair of jumpers to triple K-State’s score, 18-6. He would finish with 13 points on the night.
Baylor extended a 39-21 halftime lead in the second half. They were a scorching 62.5% from the floor in the second half, with most of that damage coming inside. Baylor was 13-16 on 2-point shots in the second half.
Baylor held a 39-28 edge in rebounding, and a 21-8 advantage in assists.
Baylor dominated every phase of the first half. Kansas State shot just 27% from the floor, was 2-13 from three, and had 0 second-chance points. The Bears defense, with the reintroduction of Sochan into the lineup, is back to having great length on the floor pretty much all the time. Drew still went to three-guard lineups throughout the half, but many more minutes saw 2 wings plus a big. That's a much better recipe for cutting off driving and passing lanes, something the Bears struggled with while Sochan was out.
Speaking of Sochan, the crowd gave him a raucous reception when he first entered the game. That energy carried down to the floor. It’s all the little things Sochan does that have such a huge impact. He only scored three points (and boy was the crowd happy about his first bucket back), but he was +14 in one half of play, second on the team to Cryer, who was +15. On offense he moved the ball. Where Sochan was stellar, though, was defense. His defensive chemistry with Tchamwa-Tchatchoua is beautiful to watch. The way they switch assignments, rotate on the back side of plays in tandem, and coordinate their sneak attacks on ball handlers in the paint really does warp the game on that end.
Flagler and Cryer looked very comfortable on offense handling the ball and passing inside. K-State lacks length on the perimeter. There’s one wing-sized player, Ismael Massoud, spends a lot of time at small-ball center. That makes the passing lanes a little less crowded. Flagler had a pair of passes to Tchamwa-Tchatchoua inside that just weren’t available in the last few games.
Breaking news: this team gets a huge boost with Sochan in the lineup. Rotations felt more natural, energy levels were higher, and the defense was back to its usual levels of intensity. Sochan didn’t have an outstanding stat line, but he contributed in all the little ways a rotation player needs to on a team this talented. His chemistry with Tchamwa-Tchatchoua is marvelous, and his spacing on offense is impeccable, most of the time.
Tchamwa-Tchatchoua was stoked to have Sochan back in the rotation. “It was definitely really exciting. He brings a lot of energy off the bench.”
“He just comes out on the court, he just does everything so well,” Brown had to say on Sochan’s return after the game.
Dale Bonner (7 pts, 5 asts) continues to improve as the season goes along.
Drew cited time in the system as a large part of his recent growth, noting how the new transfer rules can be tough when lower division players transfer up and play immediately. “He moved up a level. Credit him for adjusting.”
Drew commented that the new transfer rules have made Bonner’s adjustment slower than in a typical season. “Normally when we get transfers, they sit out a year...That year with Charlie (Melton, Director of Athletics Performance with the men’s basketball team) really helps with the physicality.” Bonner has had to adjust his game without the benefit of that year redshirting.
Drew also noted how freshman this season are playing against guys who are in their 5th or 6th seasons, making the transition into conference play even more challenging than usual. Brown is starting to find ways to make an impact. He had his own double-double tonight with 10 points and 11 rebounds on only 5 shot attempts. He also had a team high +22 plus/minus.
Baylor will be facing Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday as part of the Big XII-SEC challenge. Despite an uneven SEC start, Alabama ranks 19th in KenPom. Javon Quinerly and freshman JD Davison will be big challenges to slow down, and Baylor’s defense will have to keep a close eye on Jaden Shackelford, the Crimson Tide’s best shooter.