The Bears welcomed the New Mexico State Aggies into the Ferrell Center tonight, where the team is undefeated so far this season, and that stat remains true still.
The first surprise of the game came when Kenny Chery returned to the starting lineup for the team, and finished his night with a solid performance. He did not seem to show any signs of a hangover from his recent plantar fasciitis injury.
The first half is best described as easily the best 20-minute defensive effort we have seen from the Bears this season. Thanks to incredibly active hands on defense, Baylor forced 10 turnovers in the first period alone. From Rico jumping in front of fast break passes to intercept the ball (yes, football style) to Taurean squeezing into passing lanes to grab a steal, this team showed that any opponent will have to ensure they make the crispest of passes, so as not to allow the Bears to run in transition. While turnovers contributed to most of the fast breaks, what cannot be overlooked is how protective of the paint the Bears were in the first half, collecting three blocks in 20-minutes of play. What is perhaps more impressive, however, is just how this defense does not give up during the extended college shot clock. 35-seconds is a long time for a single possession, but not once in the first half did Coach Drew’s squad let up in the final five seconds of a possession. While the Aggies did manage to make their way to center of the zone (the soft spot), the Bears contested almost every shot and allowed very few easy buckets.
Offensively, however, the story is much less bright. Multiple missed layups and missed free throws contributed to the Bears only taking an eight point lead into the half; a lead that should be at least double digits with how effective the defense has been. Transition offense in the first half seemed off, as players were not scanning the court and passing out to open guys on the perimeter or on the trail. That said, Jonathan Motley showed an impressive array of post moves, including a beautiful hop step to the rim for a contested bucket.
The offensive woes continued in the second half, with the Bears still struggling to finish around the rim, even on easy baskets. While it may not show that point, the overall field goal percentage was aided by the addition of late makes. Additionally, tonight was easily the worst free throw game for Baylor in recent memory. The team finished with 11 makes on 21 FT attempts, but the performance at the line had a much bigger impact than the already deplorable 52.4%. Motley did continue his excellent play on the night, finishing with 14 points and even dishing out a couple of assists.
The defense, meanwhile, remained stout, sans a two-minute stretch to start the second half where the Aggies hit two threes to help close the lead to one point. Recovering from that shock of a start, though, the Bears managed to swat away four more shots, totaling seven blocks on the game. What cannot be overlooked is Gathers’ career and team season-high 6 steals on the game.
Overall, what this game does for the Bears is provide plenty of game film to help improve the curious offense that showed up tonight.
Final Score: New Mexico State – 55 Baylor - 66