The Baylor Bears (8-2) built a lead in the second half to win 58-48 over the Northwestern State Demons (8-4) after a season low 24 points in the first half. Jalen Bridges woke up from his December slump with 13 points and 7 rebounds.
Northwestern State earlier this season upset TCU in Fort Worth with Mike Miles out, so when it was announced that Dale Bonner (11 points, 7 asts, 3 stls) would start in place of Adam Flagler (illness), it seemed like it was out of the realm of possibility that tonight’s game would be closer than Bears fans want out of this sort of non-conference game.
And while Northwestern State never threatened to win this one, it was closer than Baylor would have liked.
The sluggish game featured tough interior defense from both team. The paint was packed, and drivers frequently settled for floaters or fadeaways on both teams. Northwestern State certainly wanted a slower paced game. Demarcus Sharp (17 pts, 10 rebs), Ja’Monta Black (17 pts, 5-20 3PT), and Isaac Haney (8 pts) took turns isolating up top, frequently targeting Caleb Lohner (6 pts, 5 rebs) up top. In the first half, those shots went in, some good luck for the mid-major that answered a 9-0 Baylor run with a run of their own to stay within 2 points at half.
Baylor adjusted their defense in the second half and managed to hit their open shots. Northwestern State tied the game at 24, and then the Bears turned up the heat with a throwback 14-0 run. The Bears did a good job of running off misses, getting Cryer open for some threes and Dale Bonner at the rim.
Building on a strong showing against Washington State on Sunday, Josh Ojianwuna was a big presence on both ends. He pulled in 8 rebounds, scored 5 points on a couple of nifty moves inside, and was in the right place on defense — something he’s struggled with in his young career. Its continued growth from a player Baylor needs to bolster its front court depth.
The Demons weren’t done after going down 38-24. They started hitting those tough shots again, and pulled within 9. Then Jalen Bridges, whose shooting hasn’t made it down from Morgantown just yet, splashed two sweet corner threes to regain the 14 points lead with just under 10 minutes remaining.
Black, who shot 20 of his 22 shots from deep, answered with a pair of his own threes later, after the Bears and Demons traded some inside baskets, and the lead was down to 8 for Baylor with under three minutes remaining.
Some tough play down the stretch extended Baylor’s lead, led by Bonner’s nice find of Lohner on the baseline and then a sweet pocket pass to the same man next time down the court. Without Flagler as the usual closer, it was good to see Bonner and others step up in winning time.
The Bears will return to the Ferrell Center to play Nicholls State in the final game next Wednesday before conference play opens on the road in Ames against the Iowa State Cyclones.