By Chris Derrett
Despite facing a Gonzaga team that lost its leading scorer for much of Saturday’s game, No. 9 ranked Baylor fell to the unranked Bulldogs, 68-64. Freshman Perry Jones III’s team-high 19 points led the Bears, who were beat in the post and could not maintain an offensive rhythm.
“They came out with a chip on their shoulder, and they played harder than us,” senior LaceDarius Dunn said. “Like I said, I think they just wanted it more.”
Dunn followed Jones III with 17 points but did so shooting 4 of 13 and committing five turnovers.
Junior Robert Sacre led Gonzaga with 17 points on 6 of 10 shooting as the Bulldogs edged the Bears late without senior guard Steven Gray, who averages a team-high 16.8 points.
The Bears erased a 58-55 deficit when Jones III hit a jumper with 2:05 on the clock and junior Quincy Acy was fouled just before the shot fell. Acy made both free throws, essentially creating a four-point play and putting the Bears ahead 59-58.
But out of an ensuing Gonzaga timeout, freshman Kelly Olynyk drained his only 3-pointer of the game and gave Gonzaga the lead for good.
The victory ended the Bulldogs’ streak of four consecutive losses to ranked opponents.
When Gray fell victim to back spasms at the 4:59 mark of the first half, his team held a 23-19 advantage, scoring eight of its nine baskets to that point in the paint.
“We’re definitely not happy about that,” Jones III said. “We don’t want anybody to score inside on us. We have a little saying, ‘go hard in the paint.’ We didn’t go hard enough. That’s what we don’t want.”
It was an uphill battle for the Bears nearly the entire game. They only saw a handful of leads in the second half, none lasting more than one Gonzaga possession.
Often lauded for its length and athleticism, the Baylor zone defense could not contain the Bulldogs. Gonzaga finished the night outscoring the Bears in the paint, 32-16. When Baylor did collapse inside, a timely perimeter shots kept Gonzaga on top.
Junior Marquise Carter’s back-to-back threes turned a 49-47 Baylor lead at 7:34 into a 52-49 Gonzaga a minute and a half later. They would not trail again until Baylor briefly regained control at 59-58.
“They executed better and made shots. We didn’t execute as well, and we missed shots,” coach Scott Drew said.
Baylor only pulled in front twice the entire first half, but both times Gonzaga found its way to the basket around the Bears’ front line.
Adding to the 7-foot Sacre’s performance in the post, sophomore Elias Harris scored eight points before fouling out, and freshman Sam Dower totaled 10 points with all three of his buckets coming in the paint.
Defensively the Bulldogs kept Baylor away from the rim and forced 17 turnovers while allowing just five assists.
“That’s the most important thing that I’m frustrated about right now, not missing shots but turning the ball over and not giving us an opportunity to at least get a shot,” Dunn said. “That’s not going to get it. That’s not going to get it in the Big 12.”
Gonzaga held junior Quincy Acy in check as he struggled to 2 of 6 from the field, and senior Anthony Jones went 0 for 4. Fresh from a 10-assist, one turnover performance against Bethune-Cookman, sophomore A.J. Walton ended with five turnovers and no assists Saturday.
Saturday was also a bitter end to a memorable Saturday for Fred Ellis, who graduated with a Baylor degree in speech communications earlier in the day.