On a day when Kansas was blown out in Lawrence for only the second back-to-back loss in the Bill Self era, the Baylor Bears (14-5, 4-3) got themselves back in the conversation for the conference with a clunker of a 62-60 win over the Oklahoma Sooners (11-8, 2-5).
After CJ Noland hit a runner to take the lead 58-56, it felt like the Bears would cough up another close loss after going cold from the outside. Then on a baseline out of bounds, Scott Drew called the play for Jalen Bridges, the junior wing who has started to round into form. Bridges caught the ball on the left wing, pump faked, then stepped to his left to fire from the deep corner.
It splashed in for Bridges second straight three and capped his 11 point, 8 rebound night.
The Bears played stalwart defense on the other end, and the rebound caromed into Adam Flagler’s hands. Baylor ran a guard-guard screen with Flagler and Cryer up top to get a smaller defender in front of Flagler. The senior guard dribbled into rhythm for his step-back, and the ball soared beautifully through the net.
The shot sealed Baylor’s fourth straight Big 12 win and moved them above .500 in league play for the first time this season.
Flagler led the way for Baylor tonight, scoring 16 points and dishing 5 assists. His dagger three was a signature moment of the season and just another example of the stability he brings to the team.
Keyonte George had a game high +12 on/off, but had an inefficient 11 points on 3-12 shooting, 3-7 FT, just 1 rebound, and 4 turnovers to 0 assists. This was certainly an off game for George, who looked disengaged on both ends, particularly on defense. Inconsistency happens with 18-year-olds, of course. Fans can only hope that this lackadaisical performance won’t carry into Monday’s game.
Neither team played particularly well tonight. For stretches it seemed that Oklahoma could get any shot they wanted with Tanner Groves (16 pts, 9 rebs, 3 blks), either popping out or dunking under the rim. Then the Sooners would oddly drift away from Groves, resorting to drives from Grant Sheffield (8 pts, 3-10 FG), Noland (2 pts, 1-4), or Jacob Groves (2 pts, 1-5). The only other sooner to be especially effective was Jalen Hill, who scored a game-high 17 points on 8-13 FG with 9 rebounds. His cuts into the paint sliced up Baylor’s defense.
Still, the Bears pulled together just enough to win this one. After starting 4-17 from three, they hit their last three to steal the game away. The defense was good enough in moments, particularly in rebounding. Oklahoma had just 12 second-chance points on 9 offensive rebounds. Baylor’s 17 offensive rebounds for 30 second-chance points were the difference in the game. Huge credit for that goes to Bridges, Flo Thamba (6 points, 10 rebounds) and Caleb Lohner (0 pts, 7 rebs). Freshman Josh Ojianwuna, too, corralled 4 rebounds and was a perfect 6-6 from the line.
Some would call this a program win - a game where you’re not playing your best but don’t fold, eventually gutting out a tough win. It’s certainly a testament to players like Flagler and Bridges who came through in the biggest moments. For now, it’s enough to say the Bears got another road win against the bottom of the league. The win is a big deal, but a bigger test is just around the corner.
That test will be a Big Monday showdown as the lurching Kansas Jayhawks (16-3, 5-2) will be looking to get right after an embarrassing loss to TCU this afternoon. Baylor still has to prove itself against the top of the conference. This matchup could be pivotal in the Bears’ pursuit of a third straight conference championship. A win on Monday puts them fully back in the picture. A loss would drop them back into the middle of the conference.
The Bears have the talent to do big things. Today, grit got them the win in front of them.