When Makhi Mitchell (4 points, 4 rebounds) ran through Adam Flagler (5 pts, 3 rebs) for his fifth foul, you had the sense that the game was about to turn in the Bears’ favor. Flagler hit both free throws to tie the game at 53, and the No. 17 Baylor Bears (16-5, 5-3) road free throws and a Keyonte George hot streak to a 67-64 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks (14-7, 3-5).
Baylor had to sweat out the final shot, a well run tip play off a missed Davonte Davis free throw that found the ball in the hands of the sharpshooting freshman Joseph Davis in the corner. His shot could have sent the game into overtime, but it bounced of the rim as the buzzer sounded, and the Bears closed out another close win at home after struggling earlier in conference play.
George’s 7 points down the stretch brought him to 24, 3, and 3 on the night. Twice he found his way into the paint and finished through contact, something he’s become increasingly adept at as the season has progressed.
George credits his work in the weight room and the coaching staff for his improvement finishing through contact. “Coach (Bill) Peterson, we always talk to each other,” George said. “We watch a lot of basketball and he kind of talks to me about staying on my feet.“
“He’s one of the best guards we’ve ever had finishing through contact,” Drew commented on his star freshman.
Free throws played a big part in Baylor’s second half comeback, particularly when the team shot a season worst 33% from the floor. As Baylor clawed its way back into the game in the second half, they were 8-9 from the line with 3 minutes remaining. Arkansas had 0 attempts to that point in the half.
Tied at 53, Flo Thamba (3 pts, 6 rebs) went to the line with the chance for the lead. He would hit both. Then next time down the court, George snaked the pick and roll for a flip shot in the paint, and the lead was extended to 57-53.
Nest time down the court, George received the ball after a massive Flagler rebound and went straight at Makhel Mitchell (4 pts, 7 rebs) for a layup through contact, and it was 59-53.
Anthony Black (7 pts, 6 rebs, 3 asts), a childhood best friend of George’s, answered with his own layup to try keeping pace.
Then George hit the dagger with just over a minute left, a deadly step back from the top of the arc. That made it 62-55, too much for Arkansas to make up as its offense struggled to find the mismatches it feasted on in the first half. Baylor hit enough free throws in the final minute to hold on.
Jalen Bridges was massive in this game. It all turned in the first half when he picked up his 3rd foul early. Drew tried a few different things to compensate, but Bridges’ absence was felt on both ends as Arkansas expertly created mismatches with bigs on Baylor’s small guards.
Coming into the second half, Bridges knew he had to make an impact: “Affect the game, anyway possible, whether that’s playing good defense, getting rebounds, getting on loose balls, making shots. Just trying to make winning plays.”
His 8 points and 5 rebounds in the second half, including a massive second half three. Down 44-39, Bridges flared up from the wing and caught the ball at the top of the arc. He absolutely drained it to bring Baylor within a possession when it seemed Arkansas might run away with it.
“Honestly, it was just another moment in the game,” Bridges said afterwards.
It’s become clear Bridges is a linchpin of the team, the essential glue guy in the mold of Jeremy Sochan, Mark Vital, or Royce O’Neale. His individual outbursts have been limited, but his contributions on the glass have especially been impactful.
Now 8-2 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge (including 5-0 at home), Baylor put a good close to the challenge in front of a crowd of 10,627, tied for the second largest crowd in the Ferrell Center’s history.
And now on a 6-game win streak headed to Austin Monday night, the Bears are living up to their bone fides.