By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
The three-headed bench monster came alive for Baylor Saturday afternoon as the No. 2 Bears took an 84-72 victory over Auburn in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Sophomore guard Adam Flagler, junior forward Matthew Mayer and sophomore forward Johnathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua gave Baylor major contributions off the bench, with Flagler leading all scorers with a season-high 19 points and eight rebounds. As usual for a team known to play selflessly, Flagler gave his teammates all the credit for his season-high.
“It was really exciting being out there playing with this group of guys,” Flagler said. “Every shot that I made was because of my teammates encouraging me and finding me, so I just want to thank them for that because without them, I wouldn’t have this season high.”
The Bears left the first half leading 35-30 after a tightly contested, highly defensive 20 minutes. Auburn out-rebounded Baylor 27-19 in the first half. Junior forward Flo Thamba tallied up a career-high 11 rebounds to put the Bears back in the battle of the boards in the second half.
The game was close through most of the first half with the teams trading leads a few times and tied at least twice early on. Baylor then went on a two-minute, 7-0 run sparked by a foul on junior guard Jared Butler. Mitchell took a rebound off a missed dunk from Auburn’s Devon Cambridge to give Mayer the assist on a three-point shot for his first points off the bench.
The Bears got some separation out of the break, racking up a 10-point lead thanks to jumpers by Butler and senior guard MaCio Teague. Teague picked up the intensity with a fast break three-pointer off a block by senior forward Mark Vital. Baylor only raised the stakes from there.
“First half, we had energy,” head coach Scott Drew said. “I thought we were uncharacteristic as far as we missed shots, and I don’t know if we had the pressure defensively that we normally apply. And I thought the second half, we started making a couple shots, applying more pressure, getting out in transition, things were just smoother to start.”
With a little over 13 minutes on the clock, Mayer gave the Bears a little more energy and momentum, bringing the Ferrell Center to its feet with a monster second-chance dunk off a missed Butler three after an under-the-leg pass by Mitchell.
“They didn’t box me out, so I just saw the lane, and it was just like one of those perfect misses,” Mayer said. “So, shout out Jared.”
Tchamwa Tchatchoua then added a block on a jumper by Auburn freshman point guard Sharife Cooper, but a turnover by the Bears in the next possession led to a dunk by Williams. Mayer and Williams then traded three-pointers and Mitchell added to Baylor’s lead with another three on a rebound by Tchamwa Tchatchoua. Mayer then put Baylor ahead by 21 points, the Bears’ largest lead of the day, with a dunk and another second-chance three pointer.
With just a little over five minutes, Auburn made a 7-0 run to try and shorten the Baylor lead. The Bears kept the pressure on with buckets by Teague and Flagler. With just over a minute on the clock, the Tigers received a technical foul on head coach Bruce Pearl. Teague went 1-for-2 on the free throw line, but Tchamwa Tchatchoua added a free throw of his own right after and later closed out the scoring for Baylor with a second-chance jumper.
The BU bench outscored Auburn’s bench 38-16. Cooper, who was averaging 22.3 points prior to the game, was held to 6-17 field goals, went 1-for-5 from beyond the arc and finished with 15 points. Auburn was led offensively by Williams with 17 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
Meanwhile Baylor had five players in double digits, with Butler putting up 16 points to follow Flagler along with five assists, a block and two steals. Teague added 15 points and four rebounds, and Mitchell and Mayer each had 13 points. Mitchell also contributed a team-high seven assists. Vital and Tchamwa Tchatchoua were instrumental on the defense combining for five blocks.
“I know this was a tough game, because it was emotional, the team wanted to win it for Davion. Obviously, Davion wanted to play well, being a transfer from Auburn,” Drew said. “Auburn, a Final Four team with Coach Pearl, he’s a great coach. And obviously since they’ve gotten (Sharife) Cooper back, one of the best teams … I think them and Alabama are the two best teams in the SEC right now. We knew it was going to be a challenge and really credit our guys, I thought they did a great job.”
The Bears will head down to Austin on Tuesday to face No. 5 Texas for the first time this season.