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Baylor Takes Care of Business 74-68

The short-handed Bears staved off a late comeback

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Oklahoma State Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Big Dale Bonner was called on once again to fill in for the injured Keyonte George and keyed a 74-68 for the No. 7 Baylor Bears (22-8, 11-6) over the Oklahoma State Cowboys (16-14, 7-10).

A 15-2 run by Oklahoma State in the final three minutes was spurred by intense ball pressure and double teams that forced Baylor to turn the ball over. The defense paired with timely threes from Bryce Thompson and John Michael Wright made it a 4-point game with only 35 seconds remaining.

While the Bears made a number of mistakes that brought the game close, one of the bigger ones was a charge by Jalen Bridges in a 3 on 1 situation. Instead of dribbling the ball out with a 7-point lead and less than a minute to play, Bridges - who otherwise played well - chose to attempt to score through Moussa Cisse. The two collided, and the charge was rightly called. Wright hit a three on the ensuing possession, and the madness was poised to crest into a collapse before Baylor calmed enough to hold onto the ball and force OSU to foul.

Fittingly, it was Bonner’s free throws that brought Baylor home.

Not only did the Bears play without George, but Langston Love went out early in the second half with a cornea abrasion, forcing Scott Drew to go deep into his bench for some unusual combinations. His team was up for the challenge, though. They made enough shots and got enough stops to win comfortably in a tough Gallagher-Iba Arena.

It certainly helped that Oklahoma State was missing Avery Anderson, out for the season with a wrist injury. Without Anderson to set up the offense, OSU struggled to make shots. The different in shooting talent was especially evident early in the game when Baylor jumped out to a 14-4 lead on the hot shooting of LJ Cryer (15 pts) and Adam Flagler (13 pts, 6 asts, 5 rebs). Meanwhile, OSU’s passing earned them good looks that simply clanked off the rim.

Once Oklahoma State started corralling offensive rebounds, the game crept closer. Baylor eventually settled back in with some tough rebounding, and the shots leveled out in the Bears’ favor. In the end, no amount of offensive rebounding could overcome Baylor’s 35% to 28% 3-point shooting advantage.

No small part of Baylor’s defensive intensity came from Bonner. He was disruptive all over the floor, tipping and deflecting passes that kept OSU out of their flow. He also found great rhythm on offense, following up Saturday’s 13 points with a career high 15 tonight on 4-7 shooting with 4 assists. His ability to filling in and play at such a high level the last two games has been a huge lift to Baylor and could be what earns them a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Headed forward, the story of Baylor will be the recovery of George and Love from their respective injuries. While Caleb Lohner’s 8 minutes didn’t kill them, Drew has clearly tried to shrink his front court rotation in the heat of conference play. If Lohner has to come in just to spell Flagler, Cryer, and Bonner, Baylor will struggle to have consistently elite offense. Guard play and guard depth are essential to how Baylor plays, and if the depth wears away, you start to worry about fatigue as the minutes rack up for Flagler and Cryer.

Baylor will play for the 3-seed in the Big 12 Tournament this Saturday against Iowa State. A win in Waco on senior day will give the Bears that chance.