WACO, Texas - The No. 14 Baylor Bears (18-6, 7-4) rode the coattails of their senior leader Adam Flagler’s 14-point second half en route to an 82-72 win over the Oklahoma Sooners (12-12, 2-9).
With 14 minutes left in the game, Tanner Groves (8 points, 4 rebounds) rebounded his own blocked shot and finished a layup that gave Oklahoma it’s first lead since the early minutes of the game. In response, Flagler (20 pts, 4 assists) went on a tear to lift the offense and separate down the stretch. He and Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua (6 pts, 4 rebs, 2 3PTs) seem to have already rediscovered their offensive chemistry after nearly a year apart. Tchamwa-Tchatchoua set some really hard screens for Flagler that gave him just the space he needed to pull the trigger and hit a clutch basket.
“Flo and Jon are both very good screeners,“ Scott Drew said after the game. “Our guards are blessed to have two grown men who do a good job screening. What’s great is, they don’t get tired, so now they can sprint into them. That’s part of that rotation that led to a national championship.”
That screening ability really showed late, when Tchamwa-Tchatchoua set a high ball screen for Flagler, who took just one dribble inside the arc and drained the jumper that made it a 7-point game with 2 minutes to go. From there Oklahoma began fouling and the game was a wrap.
During that time int he second half when the game was close, several Baylor players stepped up. Flo Thamba (4 pts, 5 rebs) had a particularly nice sequence with he game close down the stretch. Jalen Bridges was caught under the basket without his dribble, and Thamba crashed in for a massive dunk. The very next possession, he had the ball and kicked out to an open Langston Love for three that made the score 68-61. Those two possessions were big, and just a small example of the ways that Thamba contributes to the team.
For Love’s part, he had a brilliantly efficient game. His 19 points came on just 9 shots. He had 5 rebounds, three on the offensive end. In absence of LJ Cryer (who sat the second half with foot soreness, apparently unrelated to last season’s injury) in the second half, he really stepped up, playing all but 1 minute after halftime.
Keyonte George (23 pts) was locked in early in this one. His 15 first half points all came easily, but none came so smoothly as an out of bounds play under the basket. George, running away from the basket, cut back hard and into the vacated lane. His defender recovered to contest, but George contorted himself in the air for the finish and the foul. His craft around the rim earned him a couple of baskets.
For the Bears as a whole, there were simply too many easy baskets for Oklahoma in the first half. Seven of OU’s 35 first half points came either off a broken play (missed dunk by Bridges, lazy pass from Flagler) or the weakly contested three from Milos Uzan (11 pts) at the buzzer. Offense wasn’t Baylor’s problem early, but they needed to tighten up mistakes and the paint defense coming out of the locker room to secure its 8th win in the last 9 games.
And while the defense wasn’t much better in the second half, it did find ways to set its heels in key moments of the game. One defensive play that really stood out was Tchamwa-Tchachoua’s tie up on a loose ball where he dove onto the floor after Grant Sherfield, who otherwise had a very nice 15 points and 7 assists, lost the handle. That play came when Oklahoma had the chance to bring the game to a single possession in the final three minutes and is just one of a dozen examples of the types of winning plays that Tchamwa-Tchatchoua is already contributing to this team after his miraculous comeback.
That play - and the Flagler shot that followed it - are emblematic of the ways in which Baylor has proven itself to be a winning program over the years. Steady play from the guards, energy and focus from the bigs, and a calm that isn’t rattled when the other team makes a run. Tonight, Oklahoma looked like a team still trying to find itself, while Baylor looked like a team that’s won a share of the last two conference titles.
Speaking of — tonight’s win moves the Bears into a 4-way tie for second at 7-4. Texas still leads the conference just one game ahead at 8-3. Baylor still has games remaining against all 5 of the other teams in the conference’s top 6.
This team has gelled and taken care of business the last 4 weeks, but now is when things really get tough. They’ve got just three home games remaining and four on the road. If the Bears can hold home court and go .500 or better not he road, could that be enough to take a share of a third straight conference title?
It’s moments like these that separate the great teams, and these Bears are ready to prove their worth.