“They might be too tired to talk,” Drew joked after the game, referring to Sochan and Brown on either side of the podium.
Those two freshman had an outstanding showing, exhibiting the connection they have on the court as teammates and off the court as roommates.
“I usually do the dishes,” Sochan remarked as Brown laughed.
The final score of 72-62 came despite the first Baylor made three coming with 7:16 remaining in the game, when Matthew Mayer (16 pts) hit the first of back-to-back threes and put the Bears 20 points ahead. Baylor was just 2-11 on the day from deep, partially due to the absence of LJ Cryer and Adam Flagler, the team’s two best three-point shooters.
While Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua recovers from his knee surgery earlier in the weak, Jeremy Sochan was called on to play reserve center minutes. He dominated TCU on both ends. He tied a career high 17 points on 6-9 shooting and a perfect 5-5 from the line.
Sochan’s defense in the post and rotating to meet TCU’s drivers was impeccable, and he contributed 6 rebounds. Drew praised both freshmen for their acclimation to Baylor’s defensive scheme and ability to play defense without fouling.
Most impressively, Sochan was assertive with the ball in his hands. Anytime he felt he had a smaller defender, he would post up from the wing and dribble down into the paint, either for a short jumper or a trip to the line.
“I was trying to make an advantage for myself and my teammates,” Sochan said after the game.
His fellow freshman, Kendall Brown, played nearly as well. Brown, a uniquely athletic talent, had a fantastic line: 13 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, a block, and a steal. He drove aggressively into the paint and in transition, two things Baylor haves have been craving to see since conference play began. Oh, and Brown had 4 unbelievable dunks. The dude is a flyer.
Baylor held TCU under a point per possession (.899) despite giving up a 13-2 run to close out the final minutes of the game after leading by as many as 21-points. Had Baylor not run out of gas and motivation, the final margin would have been much wider.
TCU head coach Jamie Dixon and his players were disappointed with their level of play and focus throughout the game, but Dixon repeatedly came back to the free throw disparity as the biggest shortcoming in the game for TCU. The plan, he said, was to get Baylor’s short-handed rotation into foul trouble. Instead, Baylor had a 29-11 advantage in free throw attempts. Baylor made 22 of those. It’s a big deal to get points while standing still when everyone has to play 30+ minutes.
Speaking of minutes, the absolute toughness of James Akinjo and Dale Bonner should be noted, too. Akinjo played 39 minutes and the entire second half, while Bonner played 37 minutes. Neither was especially fantastic scoring the ball, but that’s not what their primary role was in a game like today’s. They were connectors, facilitators, and defenders. Akinjo had 8 assists, balancing his 4-15 shooting for the game. Bonner, meanwhile, scored 5 points despite missing his single shot of the game and snagged 4 steals.
But those stats don’t capture how intelligently both of them played. When TCU tried to bring ball-pressure in the second half to wear them down, they craftily passed around it without wasting energy dribbling through it. They knew they had to play essentially the entire game, and they gave Baylor exactly what was needed.
Baylor took a 33-23 lead into halftime. The Bears were driven by defense and Sochan. TCU scored just 0.676 points per possession, an elite defensive marker for Baylor. TCU shot just 35% from the floor and attempted just 3 threes in the half as the Baylor perimeter defenders were pressing into their space and disrupting each pass and dribble. TCU attempted only 2 layups in the half.
The Bears, meanwhile, had made 3 layups and 4 massive dunks, two high-fliers from Brown in the half court. Baylor had 24 points in the paint, dominating in the lane and leading by 10 despite going 0-6 from three, an true aberration for Baylor necessitated by their injuries. Sochan scored 11 as he was aggressive driving into the lane against smaller TCU defenders. Anytime he had a size advantage, he attacked and either scored or drew the foul, as he did when his 2 free throws made it a 25-17 game amidst an 11-1 Baylor run.
Despite long rotation times (Sochan played almost 11 consecutive minutes in the first half), the Bears played with force on both sides of the ball. Both freshmen after the game commented that Tchamwa-Tchatchoua gave them a lot of motivation coming into the game, as the junior forward continues to project positivity into the team despite being sidelined for the season.
Baylor’s next game is a short turnaround. They will travel to Stillwater and attempt to steal one on the road against Oklahoma State, who handed Baylor a second consecutive loss earlier this season. It remains to be seen who will be available to play in that game.