As anticipated even before the announcement that Baylor would be missing Adam Flagler (illness) and LJ Cryer (back), the Tarleton State Texans (5-4, 0-0) gave the Baylor Bears (7-2) a fight in the first half before the Bears talent and physicality lifted them to an 80-57 victory in the second half.
With tonight’s win, Flo Thamba became Baylor’s winningest player in program history. This was his 100th win. Scott Drew said after the game that he played with strep throat. He added that Cryer was suffering from back tightness this morning and wasn’t able to get loose enough to play today.
Throughout the early game, it was tick for tack. The game saw 9 lead changes and 4 ties as Baylor and Tarleton exchanged free throws, second chance points, and turnovers. The Bears and Texans had 11 and 10 turnovers, respectively, in the first half, both teams putting tight pressure on ball handlers. Dale Bonner was in his usual fine defensive form, jumping passing lanes all night to the tune of 3 steals with 12 points and 2 assists.
Baylor began to separate itself in the final 7 minutes of the first half, largely behind the play of Langston Love, who poured in a career high 20 points with a blend of physical drives to the rim and outside shooting. “It’s a blessing. All the work I had to put in last year, my legs feel better than they’ve ever felt,” Love had to say about his highlight dunk.
Love scored 8 of Baylor’s 10 points in the push that gave Baylor a 33-24 advantage, it’s largest lead of the first half. Tarleton answered the mini-run with a push to keep it close at half, closing the gap to 35-30 with tough defense and a chance to bring it to a one-possession game. A defensive flop violation, however, gave Bonner a free throw to kill the momentum before Love finished the half with a crafty and-one that restored the 9 point lead.
As the second half started, Tarleton again bogged things down with physicality before Baylor was allowed to settle in. A sweet three from Love off Jalen Bridge’s extra pass was followed by and a gorgeous steal then lob from George to Love on the break. That dunk gave Baylor it’s first double-digit lead of the game and essentially put the Bears too far ahead for Tarleton to threaten again. Baylor put the game away with a 7-0 run with 13 minutes remaining that stretched the 51-43 to a 15 point deficit.
Fouls became an issue for both teams. Lohner fouled out with more than 10 minutes left in the game, and Bonner was given his fourth foul with nearly seven minutes remaining. Tarleton’s KiAndre Gaddy fouled out early in the second half, as well. Combined, there were 50 fouls called in the game, resulting in some grueling play and 58 total free throws.
Keyonte George had a mixed game. His first half was particularly rough, when he was 1-7 with 4 turnovers. George’s early struggles came to a head when he took a foul in the air going up for a lob. He and Hopkins got offsetting technicals, but George was still demonstratively frustrating in the minutes following. He then turned the ball over, giving up a steal to the very same Hopkins who scored on a breakaway dunk to bring it to 24-23 and squash any Baylor momentum. He appeared to regain some of his swagger in the second half, but the freshman seems to still be learning to play against physical, aggressive defenses.
His second half, though? Stellar. George was a dazzling 5-8 from the floor, 3-6 from three, and 5-5 from the line. His highlights were capped by a jubilant four-point play in which he turned and smiled to the Baylor faithful from his seat on the court.
George finished with a game high 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. “Trusting my work. Some of the best shooters miss shots, so that’s my mentality,” George said of his performance. “Getting to the rim, got to the free throw line, and then started opening up the game for me, and I was able to make shots.”
Baylor dominated the game on the glass. They out-rebounded Tarleton 41-23 and outscored them 24-10 in second chance points. Particularly when the game was so physical early, Scott Drew leaned on lineups featuring a big with both Bridges and Caleb Lohner to crash the glass.
Without their two top offensive options, the Bears ground out offense. They found ways to get the ball inside and made the most of their second chance opportunities. It wasn’t a great shooting night from outside (7-20 from three), but it showed some amount of growth in how the team could attack the aggressive defense that has slowed down an otherwise elite offense. “I really thought Keyonte, Dale, and Langston did a great job,” Drew said of his guards’ play in Flagler and Cryer’s absence.
The Bears will get a bit of an extended stretch to get healthy and prepared for their next game. That will be against Washington State in Dallas on December 18th.