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George Ignites for 23 as Bears win 87-70

Flagler and Bridges combined for 38 while the freshman put on a show

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

WACO, TEXAS — The Baylor Bears earned a hard fought 87-70 win tonight over a tough, well coached Norfolk State team that may just find their way back into the NCAA Tournament this season if they continue to play like they did tonight.

The Spartans made Baylor earn everything on both ends. Ultimately, the talent and flow of the Bears won out.

The exclamation point of the game came in the closing minutes, when a steal by Keyonte George (23 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds)led to a fast break, where LJ Cryer (7 pts, 4 asts) lobed it up for a flying George lay-in. It brought out the biggest show of excitement from George all night in a game where he dominated the floor in all aspects.

Jalen Bridges scored 20 points on just 7 shots, going 2-4 from three and 8-8 from the free throw line. Adam Flagler dropped 18 and 5 assists and was the calm presence Baylor needed on the floor to build the lead in the second half.

For Norfolk State, reigning MEAC player of the year Joe Bryant, Jr. had a game-high 24 points and 6 rebounds. The Spartans shot 48% from the floor but tallied 19 turnovers. When asked, Coach Scott Drew gave a lot of the credit to Bryant and his teammates: “Where we struggled is when people penetrated, we were in rotations, and they did a good job getting him open looks.”

Norfolk State outscored Baylor in the paint 28-26. “The concern would be if we didn’t get the rebounds, “Drew said of the discrepancy. “We gotta get better at that.”

Thirty-eight of Baylors 57 shots were from three.

While Baylor lead for most of the first half, there were ebbs and flows that showed why Norfolk State won the MEAC and earned a NCAA Tournament seed last season. Baylor ended the half shooting just 40% from the floor, unable to get the ball inside for clean looks as they most swung the ball around the perimeter looking for a clean shot.

“Them mixing up there defenses made us stagnant for a little bit,” Drew commented after the game.

On offense, Norfolk State shot 52% from the floor. They whipped the ball all around the floor, and smart off ball movement kept Baylor’s defense in constant motion. That resulted in some easy baskets and offensive rebounding opportunities as they closed the game to as close as 5 points as the first half came to a close. For its part, the Baylor defense did manage 6 steals. Their length and athleticism allowed them to disrupt the Spartans on occasion, though not often enough to disrupt Norfolk State’s rhythm.

In the second half, Baylor’s depth wore down the Spartan’s energy. Bridges noted after the game, “I feel like they kinda got tired towards the end, and we just have so much depth…There’s really no drop off in the level of our play.” That depth allowed Baylor to stretch out the late lead and turn an 8 point halftime lead into a 17 point victory.

On offense, the ball moved around well. Twenty of Baylor’s 28 makes were assisted. “Those 20 assists are nice,” Drew said. “They did a great job packing it in…We got shooters so it’s hard when you got a shooter that has an open shot. At the same time, we do have to get better at mixing things up and taking opportunities to finish at the rim.” The guards were brilliant creating for one another. The three starters totaled 16 assists to only 8 turnovers. “We got a lot of weapons,” George said after the game. “So you know there’s a lot of space on the floor and you know we’re an unselfish team. It comes back to our culture.”

The Bears have one final tune-up game on Monday against Northern Colorado. That game will be a 7PM tip on ESPN+. Friday will be the first true test for Baylor when they go to Las Vegas to face Virginia.