LJ Cryer and Adam Flagler scored a combined 50 points and 8-16 threes as the Baylor Bears (4-1, 0-0) won 80-75 over the UCLA Bruins (3-2, 0-0).
Cryer was the go-to scorer tonight. His 28 points were a season high for a Bear and came on just 18 shots. He’s had a slow start to the season, and Baylor needed him to find his shot in this game to come out on top. Cryer competed on defense, as well, with 2 steals. He may never be a lock down defender, but if he can remain competitive on that end, Baylor’s ceiling this season is much higher.
His back court partner, Flagler, was the man who brought the game home. With 18 seconds remaining in the game and a 74-71 lead, Flagler sized up his man, dribbled to his right, and pulled up to drain an absolute killer jumper over his defender, extending the lead to 5 points and forcing UCLA to foul the rest of the way. Flagler would knock down two the final two free throws and points of the game to seal the win for the Bears.
Keyonte George, Baylor’s phenom freshman, had a very freshman game tonight. His 4 points on 10 shots were a season low as he went 0-6 from deep. He contributed 2 rebounds and three assists but coughed up 4 turnovers. George is still trying to find consistency at the college level but will undoubtedly take this learning experience to prepare for conference play.
Caleb Lohner and Josh Ojianwuna were big for Baylor off the bench. While Lohner had some foul issues and Ojianwuna still made some mistakes on the defensive end, they both provided energy and an athletic spark the Bears needed against this deep, athletic UCLA team. With Jalen Bridges going scoreless and Flo Thamba scoring just a single point, the 16 bench points from Lohner and Ojianwuna were a huge part in the victory.
Dale Bonner had another solid showing with 9 points, going 6-7 from the free throw line and coughing up a single turnover in 26 minutes of play. In a back-and-forth game, he knocked down a second half three that kept Baylor in the lead as they traded baskets with Jaime Jaquez (15 pts), Tiger Campbell (12 pts), and Jaylen Clark (23 pts).
A game after losing the half-court battle to Virginia, Baylor won in the half-court tonight. They ran effective offense, didn’t turn the ball over too much, and shot threes and free throws - 28 threes, 23 free throws. The Bears shot 53.5% from two-point range, a positive sign for a team that lives and dies by the three.
And don’t get it wrong, tonight Baylor lived by the three, where they took half of their attempts. But they played physically on both ends. It’s a big deal that Baylor had 23 free throws while attempting so many jumpers. It’s the sign of a team that isn’t afraid to go inside and draw contact. That will matter late in the season when there’s a game where the outside shot isn’t falling.
In all, there was a lot of good for Baylor in this tournament. It’s too bad they couldn’t pull it out on Friday against what is proving to be a formidable Virginia team, but tonight was a tough win against a good team despite getting little scoring contribution from three of five starters (Thamba’s defense was excellent and steadying, though. Ojianwuna had a highlight block recovering on a drive after getting beat, but Thamba remains the most reliable defender on the team so far this season). These early season tournaments provide experience and learning moments that will pay dividends in conference play and beyond.
The Bears return home to the Ferrell Center to face McNeese State on Wednesday afternoon for a 3pm tip before Thanksgiving. After the break Baylor will travel to the cold north to face Marquette on November 29th.