Langston Love, who has been Baylor’s leading scorer in conference play, was the hero of the evening with a career high 24 points, 7 rebounds, and a massive +21 plus-minus. He got the ball in the basket every which way, going 6-11 from the floor, 5-7 from three and a perfect 7-7 from the line. He was absolutely dominant.
After trailing for most of the game and down 45-51, Love caught the ball on the left wing - which would seem to be his favorite spot - and knocked down the three and got the foul. His four-point play would set up Ja’Kobe Walter, who did not let an uncharacteristically quiet scoring night, to hit free throws that allowed the Bears finally to brake through to take a 57-56 lead.
Baylor then scored on three straight possessions with a three from Love, a huge dunk for Yves Missi on a simply gorgeous dime from RayJ Dennis (11 points, 8 assists ), and then a three from Walter (8 points, 3 steals) put the Bears up by seven with four minutes left in the game. The Knights would continue fighting, but eventually they had to foul to preserve clock, and Baylor was able to make enough to win the ballgame,
Baylor did a good job all game at carving up the tough UCF defense, ranked No. 7 in KenPom. The guards consistently got to the paint, and they made the extra pass that frequently found the ball in Love’s hands in position to attack or shoot over a rotating defense. On the other end, Scott Drew relied heavily on the zone defense to crowd the paint, where UCF coach Johnny Dawkins wanted to get the ball inside to his big 7-footers like Ibrahima Diallo (8 points, 5 rebounds).
Drew’s gambit was that UCF couldn’t make enough threes to compensate, a reasonable gamble against a team that was shooting barely over 30% from deep coming into the night. Well, Darius Johnson sure made it seem early like Drew made the wrong gamble. UCF started 4-4 from deep in the opening minutes for a big early lead, and Johnson finished the game with 23 points, 7 rebounds, and 10 assists while going 5-7 from deep. Johnson was unstoppable, only slowed by foul trouble late, when he eventually fouled out while UCF tried to claw its way back.
Missi only had 11 points, 2 blocks, and one rebound to his name, but he felt nearly as impactful as he did in his career night against TCU on Saturday. His athleticism showed on a number of high flying dunks. The one to close the first half was particularly stirring.
As usual, Baylor won tonight by living at the line without fouling on defense, something the zone especially helps limit. The Bears shot 25 free throws, making 20 of them. UCF was 1-7 from the line. That 19-point differential was obviously Baylor’s biggest advantage in this game.
It was essential for Baylor to break the losing streak tonight, as they will be playing four straight games against ranked teams, including three of the top 4 teams in the Big 12 standings. Thankfully, three of those four games will be in the Foster. That stretch will start with Iowa State on Saturday, as the Bears will look to avenge last season, when the Cyclones obliterated Baylor in all three matchups.