Is it time to buy in to Baylor as a legitimate Final Four contender? Whether or not you think this team is capable of a deep run in March, their 75-73 win at Kansas State is a big deal.
Pierre Jackson controlled the second half, constantly creating opportunities and hitting back-to-back three’s at one point. This didn’t completely swing momentum as Kansas State would later retake the lead, but it still felt like an important moment for Baylor. He ended up with 11 assists which is a career high for him.
Perry Jones III had a good game (17 points on 8-12, 8 rebounds), but to me never really made his presence felt towards the end of the game. But with Jackson playing the way he was, Jones didn’t need to completely take over. Quincy Miller had a relatively quiet night (9 points on 4-6, 2 rebounds) but responded to a Will Spradling go-ahead three with a go-ahead three of his own near the seven minute mark. The shot quieted a crowd that was ready to Wabash Cannonball all night long and I felt like it may have stopped things from snowballing on Baylor.
Kansas State got jammed up and lost the ball on screens between the three point line and half court time and time again. This lack of ball security especially hurt them in the last three minutes when Quincy Acy came up with back-to-back steal and scores. Baylor switching from their happy-place zone to man to man obviously had a lot do with this. Credit must go to Scott Drew for switching out of something he likes when it wasn’t working.
The Wildcats were dominating the turnover battle midway through the first half (8 to 0), but were never able to push the lead past 10. Rodney McGruder had a special night, scoring 30 points on 10-14 shooting. What was most impressive was he showed a complete game: getting into the lane, getting to the free throw line, hitting a couple three’s, etc. And for as much as he had the ball in his hands, he only turned it over once. Perhaps he can be that crunch-time, go-to-guy the Wildcats will probably need in the NCAA’s.
What it means for Baylor
This win looks even better for Baylor because it comes after Kansas State dismantled Missouri in Manhattan and ended Missouri’s undefeated season. Kansas State got Baylor in an early hole (10 points), like they did with Missouri, but Baylor was able to stop the bleeding at 10 and go into halftime only down two. The matchup also wasn’t as favorable for Kansas State, as Baylor has the size to not be absolutely demolished on the glass like Missouri was.
But regardless of style and matchups, Kansas State is a quality team that has an animal of a home court environment/advantage. The Baylor teams of recent years probably would not have won this game, but this team did. And they just didn’t fight back from a halftime deficit, they had to battle to get the lead back in the last few minutes.
There is that question that comes up every year when a team looks like they just might finish off an undefeated season (not that we are there with Baylor yet): is it better for a team to lose a game? Is that something a team can learn from and then draw on during the tournament? But, at least so far, the “learning experience” logic argument might not apply to Baylor.
It isn’t as if the Bears have breezed by their competition all year long. They have been in a number of dog fights at the end of games. They had to beat West Virginia and Mississippi State in the closing minutes as well. They also had to do the same against BYU, and that was a true road game. So to say this team doesn’t have “adversity-type” situations to draw from would be wrong.
But we’ll see if we have to have that conversation in a month or so. The Bears survived Manhattan, but a trip to Lawrence next Monday looms, assuming they can take care of Oklahoma State.
I’m shocked Kansas State’s PA announcer still has workable vocal chords after saying Rodney McGruder’s (or McGruuuuuuder’s) name for the past three years. And especially so after a night like this when he was constantly saying it. Those bellows on the “ooo” sound are something the state of Kansas should treasure.