No. 5 Baylor MBB prevails in defensive clash with Sooners

Baylor MBB junior guard Adam Flagler pushes the ball up the court against the University of Oklahoma on Jan. 22 at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer

No. 5 Baylor men’s basketball improved to 17-2, 5-2 in conference, after a physical 65-51 win over the University of Oklahoma (12-7, 2-5 Big 12). Baylor’s defense proved to be too much as OU’s 51 points was the fewest the team had scored in a game in almost three years as the Bears remain undefeated on the road. Baylor is now 32-1 against unranked teams over the past 2 seasons.

Head coach Scott Drew attributed their success to having good depth and different players who can step up when needed.

“Last game, we hit threes and Matt [Mayer] came out and was on fire, but every game is different,” Drew said. “That’s why you got to have different people, the more weapons or people that can come in and contribute when it’s not your night. Hopefully the defense is always constant and taking care of the ball is constant.”

Baylor’s stifling defense proved to be the X-factor as they forced the Sooners to commit 25 turnovers, in which the Bears converted into 35 points. The Bear’s offense shot 42.3% from the field including 6-of-20 from deep.

After missing the last game, senior guard James Akinjo returned to the lineup today, but he struggled getting shots to fall, going 1-of-6 shooting before re-injuring his tailbone. Freshman forward Jeremy Sochan remains out with an ankle injury.

Junior guard Adam Flagler recorded a game-high 16 points, in his career at Baylor the team is 26-1 when he scores in double figures. The Bears also had three other players score in double digits. Sophomore guard LJ Cryer had 14 points, and senior forward Matthew Mayer finished with 12 points alongside four steals. Senior forward Flo Thamba played a career-high 28 minutes, totaling seven points, three steals and bringing down 10 rebounds. Freshman forward Kendall Brown had his fingerprints all over the game with 10 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals. This was Brown’s first conference game scoring 10+ points and Flagler said it was great to see because he knows Brown is a high-level competitor.

“It was great,” Flagler said. “[Brown]’s high-level and he’s a competitor. He never complains about anything. He just goes out there and plays at a high level so it’s really good just seeing him get on that scoreboard and get over the double figures. I expect to see a lot more of that, we’re doing a better job of moving the ball and just trying to get easy looks.”

Baylor came out the gates on a defensive mission, shutting out the Sooners for the first five minutes of the contest with a 10-possession stretch that included eight OU turnovers and just two shot attempts. However, the Bears only built a 10-point lead before a flip was switched for the Sooners. In the next 10 minutes, Oklahoma’s 21-7 run accompanied by a five-minute Baylor scoring drought allowed the Sooners to take the lead and control of the game.

The Bears wouldn’t go down easily though, putting together an 8-0 run to end the half and retake the lead 25-21 going into the break.

At the half, Baylor’s leading scorer was Cryer, with eight points. Their offense struggled, shooting 11-of-34 and 2-of-14 beyond the arc. However, their 14 forced turnovers led to 19 of their 25 points to keep them in control.

The Bears picked up right where they left off in the second half with another quick 8-0 run to reclaim their double-digit lead, forcing an Oklahoma timeout two minutes in. The Sooners continued to battle and cutting the lead to a single-possession with less than nine minutes to go in the game.

With just over six minutes left in the game, Akinjo drove to the rim and was able to convert for his first points of the match. However, his mid-air collision with an OU defender, resulted in a hard fall on his previously injured tailbone. Akinjo would not return to play for the remaining time. Drew said he tried to keep Akinjo from that situation and it was unfortunate. Drew said Akinjo’s return is a matter of his pain tolerance dealing with the bruised tailbone.

“Purposely, I was trying not to put him in those situations and then we needed a bucket,” Drew said. “He’s really good at finishing but unfortunately he hit that tailbone again. We will keep rehabbing him. It’s a bruise so it’s all pain tolerance and it’s really painful but he’s a tough kid.”

Soon after Akinjo’s injury, a loose ball led to another accidental collision where Oklahoma’s senior forward Tanner Groves caught a knee to his face. There was no call on the play and Groves let the officials hear it, resulting in a technical foul. Baylor capitalized on the tech and shot out to a 11-2 run following the call. Mayer’s contested, spinning three once again gave the Bears a 10-point lead with less than four minutes to go. Baylor held off the Sooners’ efforts and were able to coast to a 14-point win.

Drew said he was a lot happier with this week’s performance than he was with last week’s and the team’s execution and second-half play.

“We like this week a lot better than last week,” Drew said. “That’s first and foremost. It was great to have James [Akinjo] back. We took away a lot of the easy buckets that we gave up the first time we faced them, causing 25 turnovers which is outstanding. Offensively in the second half, shot 61% a lot more effective, and 79% from the free throw line, we made free throws when we needed to.”

Next up, the Bears head back home to Waco to face off with Kansas State University (10-8, 2-5 Big 12) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the Ferrell Center.