Story by Ben Everett | Sports Editor, Video by Noah Torr | Broadcast Reporter
Baylor men’s basketball defeated South Dakota 63-57 Tuesday night at the Ferrell Center in sophomore forward Mario Kegler’s debut.
Kegler, a transfer from Mississippi State, was suspended for the first six games of the season due to a violation of team rules. He notched 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks in his first game in a Baylor uniform.
Kegler, who air-balled his first shot of the game and shot 1-for-6 from three-point range, said the nerves got to him early in the game, but he was excited to finally be back on the court.
“It was an ugly [win],” Kegler said. “I’m just happy to be out there fighting with my team. I came out trying to rush things a little bit, but I slowed down and let the game come to me.”
The Baylor offense started sluggishly, shooting 1-for-5 from the field in the first four minutes of the game. Meanwhile, South Dakota freshman forward Matt Johns paced the Coyotes with two three-pointers in the early going to give South Dakota an 8-2 lead at the 15:52 mark of the first half.
The Bears went over four minutes without a basket before freshman guard Jared Butler converted on a floater in the lane to cut the South Dakota lead to 14-7 with 10:35 remaining in the first half.
Kegler scored his first points in a Baylor uniform at the 8:20 mark of the first half when he knocked down a free throw. Kegler missed his first three shots, all three-pointers, before scoring on the free throw. Baylor head coach Scott Drew said Kegler will continue to get better as the season progresses.
“Offensively, Mario will get much better,” Drew said. “I know that because I’ve seen him in the two scrimmages and he was much better. But when it’s a real game [with] fans and lights, it’s a different feeling.”
With the Bears down nine, freshman forward Matthew Mayer sparked a 13-6 run by scoring six points down the stretch to cut the South Dakota lead to 29-27 at the end of the first half.
The Bears shot 32 percent from the field, 29 percent from three-point range and 38 percent from the free throw line in the first half, despite only trailing by two points.
Baylor came out firing in the second half. Senior guard Makai Mason drained a corner three-pointer to give the Bears their first lead since 2-0 and Kegler knocked down a three of his own to make it a 35-31 game and prompt South Dakota to call a timeout.
South Dakota senior forward Trey Burch-Manning brought the Coyotes back into the game, scoring seven straight points to give South Dakota a 45-41 lead with 11:50 remaining in the second half.
The Bears continued to battle from behind in the late stages of the second half. Sophomore forward Tristan Clark scored his first points of the game on back-to-back dunks and Kegler scored on an and-one drive to the basket, but the Coyotes held a 57-53 lead with 4:41 left in the game.
The Bears embarked on a 9-0 run with sophomore forward Mark Vital converting a layup to tie the game and Mason scoring on back-to-back jumpers to give Baylor a 62-57 lead with 57 seconds remaining. The Coyotes couldn’t connect on multiple three-point tries in the final minute as the Bears went on to win 63-57.
Drew said he is grateful for close games like this because it helps the team gain valuable experience.
“As a coach, you couldn’t have a better game than this game,” Drew said. “When you win by 20, it’s fools gold … You have to have experience in those close games.”
The Bears hit the road to face Wichita State at 7 p.m. Saturday in Wichita, Kan.