By Shehan Jeyarajah
The Bears earned a 69-64 victory Wednesday at the Ferrell Center to move to 4-0 on the season, despite letting a double-digit lead disappear when Charleston Southern cut the lead to 67-64 in the waning minute of the game.
Baylor sophomore center Isaiah Austin set the tone early with a massive block on the first play of the game for Baylor. The Bears scored the first eight points of the contest, including two jumpers from senior power forward Cory Jefferson.
Charleston Southern responded with a 13-1 run behind back-to-back 3-pointers from senior guard Sheldon Strickland. The Bears answered right back at the Buccaneers with a 9-0 run capped by a 3-pointer from senior guard Brady Heslip.
CSU forward Cerick Bowen had a nightmare stretch at the end of the first quarter.
In a series of minutes, Bowen was dunked on by Jefferson at one end and then stuffed by Austin at the other end. He returned to the bench with an ankle injury as Baylor led 32-28 at half.
Baylor opened the second half on an 11-4 run thanks to Austin’s fastbreak layup with 16:00 left to give Baylor a 43-32 lead.
Charleston Southern hit six out of eight three-point attempts to cut the Baylor lead to 59-55 with 6:40 left.
Baylor seemed to put the Buccaneers away with five minutes left when junior guard Kenny Chery came up with a huge block on Charleston Southern guard Saah Nimley that was converted into a layup for senior guard Gary Franklin. When Franklin missed the layup, Baylor got the offensive rebound and Austin scored later in the possession. Baylor took a 10-point lead with 2:00 left in the game.
Junior guard Arlon Harper and junior forward Will Saunders scored six straight points for CSU to cut the lead to 67-64 with under a minute left in the game. After a defensive stop, Charleston Southern had a chance to win it with 27 seconds left in the game. With only 9.4 seconds left, Nimley stepped out-of-bounds to end Charleston Southern’s window of opportunity. Chery knocked down two clutch free throws to ice the game.
Baylor’s frontcourt of Jefferson and Austin dominated the interior. Jefferson had 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in the victory, while Austin added 16 points, eight rebounds and six blocks. The two combined to shoot 12-for-14 from the free throw line.
“Their length really bothered us,” CSU coach Barclay Radebaugh said. “We don’t see that size but four times a year. That size affects us a little bit. We got a lot of looks that at the mid-major level would have gone in, but Isaiah was a real factor in the game. At the mid-major level, there’s not two NBA players standing there.”
In his last two games, Austin has combined for 14 blocks.
“Our guards play excellent perimeter defense,” Austin said. “My job is to be there for help-side to help them.”
Senior guard Sheldon Strickland led Charleston Southern in the loss with 14 points on 4-for-5 shooting from the 3-point line. Senior guard Saah Nimley added 11 points, three rebounds and two assists.
Charleston Southern was able to hang around with hot three-point shooting.
At one point in the game, the Buccaneers were shooting 11-for-18 from downtown when they cut the lead to 59-55. From that point on, CSU shot only 1-for-8 from the 3-point line.
“No coach likes an ending when we didn’t have to let it get that close,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “The good thing is that you’re going to have close games during the year. It’s good to get used to that pressure and being able to teach from that.”
Baylor will travel to Hawaii to take part in the Maui Invitational on Monday through Wednesday of next week. The Bears will open the tournament against Chaminade at 8:30 p.m. CT on Monday night.