Battling injuries, Mason crucial to Bears’ success

Baylor senior guard Makai Mason surveys the defense on Feb. 2 against TCU at the Ferrell Center. Mason scored a career-high 40 points on 9-for-12 shooting from 3-point range. Mason has been dealing with a toe injury that kept him out of the game against Kansas State on Saturday. Shae Koharski | Multimedia Journalist

By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer

Since coming off a career-high game with 40 points on 9-for-12 shooting from 3-point range against TCU on Feb. 2, Baylor men’s basketball senior guard Makai Mason has struggled due to a toe injury.

For the majority of the season, Mason has been a crucial component to the consistency of the Bears’ offense, leading the Bears in points per game (15.6) and assists (3.2 per game) while shooting 37 percent from 3-point range.

As a young team with only two seniors, Mason has become someone that younger players look up to. Junior guard Devonte Bandoo noted that it’s not only Mason’s on-the-court skill that helps the team, but his leadership.

“He’s played in college for five years, so he knows the ins and outs,” Bandoo said. “The other team knows he’s such a dangerous threat out there. It does help. Teams really have to locate him. He can attack the basket and he’s good at passing. They have to pay attention to him. When we don’t have him, it’s tough.”

With the loss of sophomore forward Tristan Clark for the season due to a knee injury and senior guard King McClure questionable with a knee injury, the Bears’ lineup has had a “step-up to the plate” mentality that every player has adopted. Players such as freshman guard Jared Butler and junior forward Freddie Gillespie are a few of the Bears who have been stepping up in recent games.

During the men’s basketball two-game losing streak, Mason either was substantially below his average numbers or sat out. In the Texas matchup, which Baylor lost 84-72, Mason only scored five points with two assists. His absence in the Kansas State game allowed Bandoo to score 15 points — but eliminated a scoring threat that his presence has given the Bears.

The struggling offense without Mason has been a recurring pattern. In five of the Bears’ eight losses, Mason’s statistics were below average or he didn’t play. Mason’s shooting statistics were also below average after returning from injury on Monday in the game against Oklahoma.

Mason notched only six points, but he dished out eight assists and played for 35 minutes of the 40-minute game. Baylor head coach Scott Drew said that Mason’s presence adds a special element to the team’s dynamic and is important moving deeper into the season.

“The eight assists and just managing the game and the tempo, I thought he did a great job,” Drew said. “As a coach, you love tough, hard-nosed guys, but you love guys that don’t mind playing when they’re not 100 percent to try to help the team win. And it says a lot about his character.”

Mason and the Bears embark on a two-game road trip starting with a matchup against Texas Tech at 1 p.m. Saturday in Lubbock.