No. 10 Baylor faced with injury, prevail over No. 20 Texas 80-63

By Michael Haag | Sports Writer, Braden Murray | Broadcast Reporter

No. 10 Baylor men’s basketball program protected home court with an 80-63 victory over No. 20 University of Texas Saturday afternoon in the Ferrell Center.

The Bears (21-4, 9-3 Big 12) stuck with a seven-man rotation after a first half injury to junior forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and were able to propel themselves to victory against the Longhorns (18-7, 7-5 Big 12).

“[I’m] really proud of how they stepped up when Jon[athan] went out but [it’s] bittersweet as a coach,” head coach Scott Drew said. “Jon’s so likable and everybody was hurting and feeling [for him]. They did a great job in saying ‘We are going to pick this one up for you Jonathan, we’re going to win this one for you.’”

Tchamwa Tchatchoua left the game in the first half with a significant knee injury and is listed as out indefinitely. This was also the fifth-straight game that Baylor was without sophomore guard LJ Cryer, the team’s leading scorer.

Five Bears were in double-digits Saturday. Junior guard Adam Flagler was the leading scorer with 20 points on 8-of-11 from the floor and 4-of-5 from deep. Senior guard James Akinjo looked healthy again in a 15 point, seven-assist and six-rebound performance.

“James [Akinjo] is really starting to get back to himself after that tailbone injury,” Drew said. “You can always tell when he’s back to himself because he’s doing his extra workouts and he’s always drenched coming to practice; he’s a rep-guy. The more reps he gets in, the better he plays.”

Senior forward Flo Thamba, forced to step up with his right-hand-man out, played a career-high 30 minutes and posted a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double. Thamba also protected the paint with four recorded blocks which tied a career-high.

“I think he [Flo] did a great job playing without fouling today,” Drew said. “Texas has a lot of skilled guys so he really had to work at it. When he’s around the rim and blocking shots, obviously that picks us up defensively and he’s capable [of doing that].”

Drew joked that when Thamba looked tired or needed a break, he and his staff acted like they didn’t notice because they needed Thamba on the court with their forward-depth depleted.

“When he looked like he wanted to come out we just didn’t look at him,” Drew said.

After the sustained injury, Thamba said his attitude never changed. He kept the same approach to the game he normally takes and didn’t let the injury throw him off.

“My mindset doesn’t change,” Thamba said. “The team always comes first. Being here for four years, we have to put the team first and do whatever is required for us to win. Minutes or no minutes, just have to go out there and play through intangibles or just rebound or play defense.”

The other two players in double figures were freshman forward Kendall Brown and senior forward Matthew Mayer who chipped in 10 apiece, with both shooting about 50% from the floor. Brown nearly recorded a double-double with eight rebounds, two boards shy of the mark.

Baylor took some time to settle into things, but within the opening minutes, they were able to erupt the Gold Out crowd. A massive dunk off a no-look pass from Akinjo to Brown sparked the early momentum in a 12-0 run.

Then the injury to Tchamwa Tchatchoua happened, and it looked like all of Baylor’s momentum was halted. However, a big dunk from freshman forward Jeremy Sochan and a couple of shots from Flagler put the Bears ahead by 12.

The fans fueled each momentum shift and helped aid big runs. The Baylor crowd remained electric all afternoon, something Drew was worried about due to the 11 a.m. tip-off.

“11 o’clock games you always get worried because I mean 11 is early on Saturday’s,” Drew said. “I thought they really did a great job showing up and bringing the energy and excitement. You have to have that because of [the] Big 12 games; if you don’t have that energy and that home court advantage, it’s really hard everywhere you go, everybody has it. Credit the fans today for making a difference.”

The Bears finished the half strong en route to a 44-31 cushion, and Flagler carried the load offensively with 13 points on 5-of-6 from the field, 3-of-4 from deep.

Flagler was confident in his shot, even at times shooting from pro-range. Flagler said it’s something he wants to continue to get better on because it makes him more lethal if he draws more defensive attention.

“I pride myself on continuing to expand my range,” Flagler said. “Guys are guarding me at the three point line so if I can extend, I can be a lot more effective out there and help my teammates.”

Flagler gained assistance from Brown who posted eight points on 4-of-8 from the floor to go with five rebounds. Thamba’s interior presence was known early, with three of his four blocks coming in the first 20 minutes.

The second half showcased more success from Baylor as their lead never faltered. With Flager’s shooting, Akinjo’s shot-creating and Thamba’s dominant presence, the Bears were able to hold off any UT threat and attain the 17-point rout.

Longhorn junior forward Brock Cunningham said their team didn’t bring enough energy to the game, and that against a team like Baylor you can never expect to win with they way they played.

“We just got lackadaisical,” Cunningham said. “Individual players including myself didn’t come ready to play. You have to play well to beat a team like Baylor.”

UT head coach Chris Beard didn’t make any excuses for the game and said they were outplayed by Baylor. He also made sure to mention that the team is praying and thinking about the injured Tchamwa Tchatchoua.

“Give Baylor a lot of credit,” Beard said. “The story is not just that we came down here and didn’t play well. There was a reason that we didn’t play well. A lot of respect for coach [Scott] Drew. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jonathan. I just want him to know that too, [I have] a lot of respect for that young man.”

Overall, Drew felt the team was locked in and played well against a Texas team that has played well as of late.

“I think [our] guys really locked in, really rotated well and really moved well,” Drew said. “A lot of it’s because you have so much respect because you’re playing a very talented team and a very well-coached team. You have to be on your A-game.”

The injury-riddled Bears get a couple of days off before they head to Lubbock to square off against No. 9 University of Texas Tech. The contest is scheduled for Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the United Supermarkets Arena and can be viewed on ESPN2. Baylor will look to avenge their 65-62 home-loss they suffered to the Red Raiders (18-6, 7-4 Big 12) on Jan. 11.