By Daniel Hill
The Baylor Bears defeated the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Monday, 64-54. The game featured breakout performances from freshman center Isaiah Austin and junior forward Cory Jefferson: both Austin and Jefferson posted double-doubles on the stat sheet. They also clearly impacted the game with their shot blocking and interior defense.
“We just wanted to be aggressive,” Austin said. “We wanted to control the paint and that’s what we did.”
Austin had 10 points and 14 rebounds and five blocks. Senior point guard Pierre Jackson led the way offensively for the Bears with 18 points and was four of nine from beyond the arc. But lately, the Bears have been all about defense.
“I know in the nonconference, we were better offensively than we were defensively.” said head coach Scott Drew. “I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think we are getting better at knowing how rotations need to be and what we need to do. I think players really are doing a good job with listening to scouting reports and following through with execution on the court.”
After a tough conference road loss last week at the hands of the No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks, the Bears found their stride this past weekend with a blowout 107-38 win over Hardin-Simmons and a solid win over the Cowboys.
The Bears held OSU to only 35 percent shooting from the field in large part due to an outstanding defensive effort. Jefferson had a solid bounce-back game against OSU after he struggled against Kansas last week on ESPN’s Big Monday showcase game. Jefferson had 11 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks against the Cowboys.
Together Austin and Jefferson tied the Baylor team record for most blocks in a Big 12 Conference game.
“Defensively, we just wanted to protect the rim,” Jefferson said. “We are some of what I feel are the best shot blockers in the Big 12 and we wanted to come out and let everybody know that on every night. Offensively, we just wanted to play our game whether it was with the guards or in the post. After that, it’s just executing everything we were supposed to. We know that every game gets won by the defense. It doesn’t matter what you do on offense if you can’t stop anybody. That’s something we pride each other on.”
Senior guard A.J. Walton contributed to the OSU victory in almost every way possible. Walton had 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals.
“Because one thing A.J. does is he plays hard,” said Drew. “When you play hard, good things normally are going to happen. That means loose balls, rebounds and steals. This year, I thought he’s had a great assist to turnover ratio.”
With a national audience watching on ESPN, Baylor helped set the tone for the kind of team they hope to be for the rest of the year.
“On Big Monday, everybody is watching, all around the nation,” Jackson said. “It’s a chance to shot what your team is capable of. Last week we didn’t do a good job of that. We faced a great Kansas team. At home, we came out here and showed the nation that we can compete with the best.”
Drew identified the overall team defense as being key to a Baylor victory.
“I thought the interior defense with Jefferson and Austin tying a school record with 11 blocks was really critical and crucial to our success,” Drew said. “It allowed us to get some transition buckets and get going. I thought in the first half, turnovers hurt us in that stretch. We gave up some transition baskets but for the most part defensively we were good all game. When Pierre gave us that offensive spurt, we were able to get some momentum in the second half. I thought in games like this, if you can get those loose balls, I thought A.J. did a great job, not only offensively, but coming up with some 50-50 balls tonight.”
A team-first and inside-out approach contributed to the strong Baylor performance.
“I thought the team really did a good job of making the extra pass and looking inside early on,” Drew said. “Cory and Isaiah were aggressive and successful. That helped some things so credit the guys on doing a great job hitting the bigs inside. At the end of the day, we know that if you don’t defend then you don’t give us a chance to win if you don’t shoot well. Hopefully we can keep this effort and keep getting better. Defending gives you a chance to stay in games on nights where you’re not making buckets. With a three-guard lineup that we have, we should have more assists than turnovers and we have to continue to get better at that.”
Baylor will take the hardwood on Saturday against TCU on the road. TCU is winless inside the Big 12 Conference and only has a 9-9 overall record. TCU has losses to the likes of Southern Methodist, Northwestern, Houston, Tulsa, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Iowa State.
Baylor has already defeated TCU earlier this season at the Ferrell Center. The Bears won that game by 11 points, 51-40. The following week Baylor hoops will return to the Ferrell Center for a showdown against the Oklahoma Sooners on Wednesday night. The Sooners are proving to be a contender this year with a 4-1 conference record and a 13-4 overall record.
“There is so much parity in the Big 12,” Drew said. “Every game is so important, especially your home games.”