LJ Cryer went off for 26 as the No. 9 Baylor Bears (19-6, 9-4) streaked past the West Virginia Mountaineers (15-11, 4-9). With the Texas loss in Lubbock tonight, Baylor is now tied for first in the Big 12 having won 9 of their last 10 conference games (and 10 of their last 11) after starting 0-3 in the conference.
Jalen Bridges commented how proud he is of his team’s competitiveness and response to those early season losses: “It’s just a credit to our guys, our staff, our sports squad, our players. We could have easily gave up, we could have let those three early losses affect us. We toughened up, we knew what we had to do, and we’ve been on a good run ever since.”
Baylor was spectacular behind the line in this one, knocking down 14 of 27 threes, 8 of which belonged to Cryer. Baylor’s junior sharp shooter was particularly locked in in the second half, making 5 of his 7 attempts. The Bears made 7 more threes on the night than WVU, absolutely the key difference in the game.
“Felt like I got a lot of great looks, so credit my teammates.” Cryer said. “When I get those looks, I feel like I’m gonna knock them down every time.”
As hot as the offense was, though, it was the defense that stood out. Scott Drew mixed up the defense to perfection tonight. WVU hardly knew possession to possession whether they were facing man, zone, or some combination of the two. It forced West Virginia into 13 turnovers and several long stretches without a field goal. WVU’s offense was ranked 17th in KenPom prior to tonight, so holding them down was no small feat. Baylor fans can take it as a sign of the continuing defensive improvement.
Related: Jonathan Tchamua-Tchatchoua is improving game by game. He finished with 11 points, earned with a variety of jumpers and turnarounds. His lateral quickness and anticipation look to be returning, as well. Just having him out there to call out defenses like a middle linebacker is elevating the team on that end. He came back at just the right time, and he will hopefully continue his reacclimation as the end of the season draws closer.
Drew after the game commented how great it is to see Tchamwa-Tchatchoua’s continued development and how he can change the outlook of things for this team moving forward:
And again I think it’s still going to take time for us to get used to Jon, Jon to get used to playing. You saw his skill level in the post, he was able to get some buckets. And those are huge because now all the sudden you’re not just depending on threes, and you’re really makes people make decisions. Are you going to double, what are you going to do?
The guards were fantastic tonight. Aside from Cryer’s 26 points, Adam Flagler had 13 points on 5-9 shooting with 6 assists, while Keyonte George had 6 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 steals. Jalen Bridges tossed in his own 12 points against his former team. He at one point went back to the locker room to be treated for what appeared to be severe cramping. He returned a few minutes later.
The first half was uneven, but after a rough start that saw 5 turnovers in 5 minutes, the Bears clocked in for the final 11 minutes of the half. After allowing WVU to make 7 straight shots, Baylor forced the Mountaineers to a measly 2 of 14 the last 10 minutes of the half. “We were mixing up our defenses,” Drew commented afterwards. “Zone, I think, changed the momentum - tempo for a minute.“ On the other end, Baylor’s offense settled in, hitting 6 of 11 from three (55%). The ball movement was spectacular.
Near the 13 minute mark of the first half, Flagler and Johnson collided near half court. Both players left for the locker room, Flagler seeming a bit dazed. He would return shortly to the bench, then checked back in with about 5 minutes to go in the half. His level of play remained high, showing no ill effects.
Now the Bears enter the real gauntlet of their season with a road game against No. 5 Kansas, a road game against No. 12 Kansas State, and a home game against No. 6 Texas. Facing the other three teams at the top of the conference, Baylor controls its own destiny. That’s not exactly where we thought things would be in early January. It seems like the Bears, though, are exactly where they expected to be.