For the second straight season, the Baylor Bears were upset in the Round of 32 in a 85-76 loss to the Creighton Bluejays. We’ll have some time in the coming days and weeks to properly commemorate the careers of Flo Thamba and others likely to leave the team this offseason. For now, we’ll break down how things went wrong tonight in Denver.
In many ways, this was a loss typical to the Bears all season. The other team was able to drive against our smaller guards, kick out, swing if around, catch us in rotation, and shoot open threes or toss it inside for an open layup. On the other end, Creighton ran Baylor off the line and forced them to drive inside. None of the guards could be especially effective taking advantage of space in the lane.
LJ Cryer was able to be effective to the tune of a career high 30 points, but he had just 1 assist. His individual brilliance couldn’t lift up the rest of the team.
At the start of the second half, it looked as if Cryer would be able to bring the Bears back into it on his own. His drive inside and his three brought it to 5 with 14:41 remaining. There was momentum and energy on Baylor’s side. But Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua was blocked inside, Cryer turned it over, and a series of missed free throws gave up a 15-5 run that took the spirit of the game away from the Baylor side.
Baylor couldn’t right the ship from there and would trail by as much as 16 in the second half.
Keyonte George will look back disappointed by his like lone NCAA Tournament appearance. After a lackluster 9 point performance, he had just 7 points tonight on 1-10 shooting. It was certainly not the sort of game he wanted to end his collegiate career and certainly did not live up to his abilities. To his credit, he competed; it just didn’t turn into production.
Similarly, Flagler will not look back with any fondness on what may be his last game in a Baylor uniform. He never looked quite right, whether it be because of nagging injury or an adverse reaction to the Denver elevation. He missed shots he normally makes, both from three and at the line. His threes mostly fell short. His 15 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist came without a single made three.
For Creighton, Fran Farabello, Ryan Nemhard, and Baylor Sheierman were all red hot from deep. Creighton was 11-24 from three a game after going 3-20. A large part of that was the quality of shot the. Blue Jays could generate against this undersized defense, as described at the top of the recap. That was the key factor in the game.
To Baylor’s credit, they played hard till the bitter end. They competed on defense, kept driving and shooting, but Lady Luck never deigned to give them a hot streak or foul call that would tip the game in their favor. When the Bears had the chance to get within two possessions in the final three minutes, either the shot rimmed out or a Baylor big was called for an offensive foul. Heartbreaking, infuriating, bound to happen at some point when a team is built around jump shooting and individual shot creation. Call it what you will. It just wasn’t what we hoped would happen tonight.
A Sweet Sixteen felt like a reasonable expectation when the season began. When the Big 12 season started 0-3, the Round of 32 seemed a long way off. After Baylor rode a hot streak to be just 1 game from the top of the conference standings, perhaps a Final Four was possible.
Now, the cold reality of falling short of the Sweet Sixteen puts in harsh relief a season that was and is, in the history of the program, a successful one. Baylor was competitive for the conference title for a third straight season. The conference freshman of the year led the team in scoring. The senior leader and national champion was an all Big 12 first team player. But all season it felt like the ultimate form of this team was just out of reach, that the potential was never actualized. Perhaps George never stepped into the expectations his talent created. Maybe Flagler and Cryer just aren’t lead guards. Definitely the cast around the guards wasn’t able to step up when the guards were held down.
But the season we had was a season worth having. Tonight, the Baylor Bears that could be simply weren’t.