Bears squeak past Cyclones in return to play after COVID-19 break

Senior forward Mark Vital leaps for a block as Iowa State's Tyler Harris drives past him in the second half. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald, Pool)

By Will Chamblee | Sports Writer

Baylor men’s basketball overcame a rough start to ward off an upset attempt from Iowa State, beating the Cyclones 77-75 Tuesday night at the Ferrell Center.

Sophomore guard Adam Flagler came off the bench and proved to be the push the Bears needed to win, scoring 22 points. Junior guard Jared Butler contributed as well, scoring 18 points, while senior forward Mark Vital grabbed 15 rebounds.

“[Flagler] was really important,” head coach Scott Drew said. “He’s been working really hard and was excited to contribute and help. He did a great job giving us a spark.”

The Bears had not played a game in over two weeks, and it showed as Baylor was rusty to begin the game. Baylor turned the ball over five times in the first six minutes and only managed to score four points. Drew attributed the slow start to Baylor’s extended break.

“We could’ve gotten real rattled,” Drew said. “That was one thing, talking to coaches, they say it’s so frustrating because you remember how you were playing before the pause, and you want to play just like that, and it doesn’t happen. You can’t get frustrated.”

An increased number of turnovers combined with Iowa State shooting a red-hot 70% from three pushed the Cyclones to a 16-point lead with just 6:24 remaining in the first half. Iowa State was led by the guard duo of Tyler Harris and Rasir Bolton, who combined for 26 of the 37 Cyclone points in the first half and 46 on the game.

The lone bright spot for Baylor came with 10 minutes left in the half, when Vital performed his best Yossiana Pressley impression and spiked Jalen Coleman-Lands layup attempt to the floor.

Baylor began to figure out the offensive side of the game late in the first half and went on a 12-2 run to cut the Iowa State lead to only single digits going into halftime. The Cyclones led 37-32 at the break.

Baylor continued to hammer away at the Iowa State lead throughout the second half, trading baskets with the Cyclones for most of the way. Iowa State cooled off significantly from three in the second half, shooting only 33% from deep.

The Bears took their first lead of the game 66-65 with 4:26 left after senior guard MaCio Teague hit a pair of free throws. Drew said the comeback showed the amount of spirit his team has, especially considering the circumstances leading up to the game.

“I think it showed a lot of heart from our guys,” Drew said. “I’ve talked to a lot of coaches who have had long pauses, and for those who have had it for reasons like us, normally they say three games until you’re normal, minimum. So, to come away, get a win and be able to perform like we did, I was very pleased with that.”

A clutch Vital block and Butler layup helped Baylor preserve the lead and ice the game. With the win, Baylor improves to 18-0, which is the best start in program history.

“Honestly, I think we’ve got to go 1-0,” Vital said. “We’ve got to come in practice and stay locked in. It takes time. Just go 1-0 every day and it’ll happen.”

Baylor will take on Kansas at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan. The game will be televised on ESPN.