The No. 6 Baylor Bears (9-1, 0-0) were rocked 88-64 by the Michigan State Spartans (5-5, 0-2) in Detroit on Saturday afternoon. Baylor was never in this one, trailing by as much as 30 points in the first half.
Ultimately, Baylor’s No. 2 offense was shut down in the first half. Michigan State’s plan was clearly to stay home on shooters and force RayJ Dennis (11 points, 7 assists, 6 turnovers) to beat them with his dribble. He often looked overwhelmed inside by the physicality and athleticism of the Spartans. Meanwhile, Tom Izzo attacked the primary weakness of Baylor’s defense all season — middle pick and roll defense. Over and over the Spartans set a screen at the top of the key for Tyson Walker and A. J. Hoggard, and that consistency turned into lob dunks for Carson Cooper, penetration for the ball handler, or an open corner three for Tre Holloman or Walker.
Baylor never gave themselves an opportunity to compete in this game. A 27-4 run by Michigan State slammed the door early as the Spartans dominated in every fashion. They got penetration on pick and roll drives, hit the lob, kicked for corner threes, stole the ball and scored in transition. It was nasty. Michigan State had 8 steals and 3 blocks in the first half, while Walker scored 18 first half points and was a perfect 4-4 from three.
And the Bears just didn’t have an answer today. Once the lead started to grow, some panic set in as the Bears started trying to make home run plays. Long cross court passes were picked off for easy points the other way. Players forced the issue and dribbled into crowds, again for easy points the other way. Too often the guards looked for the lob play when it was well guarded. Dennis looked particularly shaken. He had 3 first half turnovers, was 2-6 FG, without an assist. He struggled to get penetration and couldn’t find his shooters or cutters when he did.
Which brings us to what Michigan State really did that created the decisive lead — they stayed glued to Ja’Kobe Walter (9 pts, 2 rebs, 2 asts) and Jalen Bridges (5 pts, 3 rebs) on the perimeter. They were a combined 0-2 from three in the first half, with the number of attempts from Baylor’s two best shooters as troubling as the team’s overall 2-10 3pt rate. Tom Izzo’s plan was clearly to stay home on shooters and make Dennis and Jayden Nunn (9 pts, 6 TOs, 2 stls) win the game off the dribble. In the first half, Baylor doomed itself by its failure to adjust. As the turnovers mounted and the margin increased, no one for Baylor was able to step up.
While the Bears came out with some gas to start the second half with a 7-0 run, forcing Michigan State into 4 turnovers on their first 5 possessions, that burst couldn’t sustain. Ultimately, Baylor could only play even with Michigan State in the second half, and just barely that. The shooting leveled out (31.8% FG in the first half, 61.5% FG in the second), but the defense continued to struggle to string together stops once Michigan State adjusted to the pressure Baylor threw at them. The second half offensive ratings were fairly even for both teams. And while Baylor forced a few more turnovers in the second half (10 vs just 5 in the first half), the Spartans shot 63% both halves.
Today was not a referendum on Baylor, but it was a glaring warning they are susceptible to the right team with the right game plan. Baylor had just two players in double figures (Yves Missi had 11 points but only 3 rebounds in 19 minutes). They needed more aggression from Walter, more aggression from Nunn going to the rim, and more ways to get Bridges and the other shooters open for threes. The coaching staff needs a new answer to defend the most staple play in modern basketball.
In coming games, they’ll get that. This afternoon, they simply couldn’t handle what came their way.