Baylor may not win the Big 12 Conference regular-season title, but the No. 9 Bears displayed their championship mettle on Saturday.
Down 18-4 8 1/2 minutes into their conference game with No. 8 Texas and without Keyonte George (ankle), Baylor rallied for an 81-72 home win that dropped the Longhorns out of their first-place tie with Kansas in the conference.
The Bears don’t have much time to celebrate, though, as they have to turn around Monday night and visit an Oklahoma State team desperately seeking a big win to end a four-game losing streak.
In avenging an earlier loss to Texas, Baylor (21-8, 10-6 Big 12) got 17 points and four blocked shots from Jalen Bridges, 12 points and 12 rebounds from Flo Thamba and an unexpected 13 points off the bench from Dale Bonner.
In the Bears’ past 12 games, Bonner reached double figures in minutes only once. With George and his 16.3-point average on the sideline, Bonner not only scored, but added four assists and a pair of steals in about 20 minutes on the floor.
“All parents out there, only five can play, so your job on the bench is to be the best teammate that you can and keep working until you get that opportunity,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said of Bonner’s performance. “I couldn’t be any more happy and pleased for him.”
If George isn’t able to recover on short rest and play Monday night, Bonner is likely to get another chance to show his worth. He came into Saturday’s game averaging only 3.7 points per game.
The Bears will, as usual, rely on their guards for most of their offense. Adam Flagler hits for 15.5 per game and LJ Cryer scores 14.7. The duo makes 40 and 42.9 percent, respectively, of their 3-point shots.
While Baylor aims for another win that will pad its NCAA resume, Oklahoma State (16-13, 7-9) suddenly finds itself in bubble trouble. The Cowboys were in good shape two weeks ago after ripping off five straight wins, but they have hit the skids at the wrong time.
A 73-68 home loss Saturday to Kansas State might send Oklahoma State off last-in lists to first-out lists for the NCAA Tournament. The Cowboys led most of the second half but gave up a 14-4 run that erased an eight-point lead, then managed just three points in a stretch of more than four minutes as the Wildcats pulled away.
“We’re frustrated,” said Oklahoma State forward Kalib Boone. “I’m frustrated with it but I don’t like to show it.”
During the skid, the Cowboys’ once-elite defense has leaked repeatedly. Opponents are averaging 86.3 points, too much for an offense that scores a shade under 70 ppg to overcome. Even though they forced 16 turnovers Saturday, they still permitted Kansas State to make 49 percent from the field and 8 of 21 from 3-point range.
Boone (12.0 ppg) and Bryce Thompson (11.8) are the team’s leading scorers. Avery Anderson III (wrist) hits for 11.1 but has been out the last seven games and there is no timetable for his return.
Baylor took a 74-58 win in the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 14 as Cryer scored 16 points to lead four Bears in double figures.
–Field Level Media