Three Thoughts on Baylor’s Monday Night Win Over Oklahoma StatePosted by Taylor Erickson on February 18th, 2014
Take a trip back in time to January 3, 2014. Baylor had just demolished lowly Savannah State at home in its final tune-up before conference play. Scott Drew’s team was 12-1, ranked 9th in the nation with neutral site, non-conference victories over a Spencer Dinwiddie-led Colorado team and a Kentucky squad that was ranked 3rd at the time. Baylor looked like one of the Big 12’s elite, possibly capable of threatening Kansas’ nine-year reign atop the league. On that same evening in early January, Oklahoma State was preparing for its first conference game of the season — a road contest at an up-and-down Kansas State group looking for a win to ignite its start in league play. The Cowboys, much like their fellow Big 12 competitors from Waco, had raced out to a 12-1 record to begin the season, and found themselves ranked 6th in the nation after non-conference victories over Memphis and the same Colorado team. Marcus Smart was averaging over 17 points per game, and perhaps even more so than Baylor, Travis Ford’s team looked like it had a legitimate shot to take down the then-shaky Jayhawks.
At that time, a mid-February Big Monday battle in Waco between these two teams looked like must-see television. Boy, how quickly things can change. Instead of a match-up that could have (should have?) had serious league title implications, this game instead featured the eighth and ninth teams in the Big 12 standings, fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. The winner of last night’s game would move to three games back of .500 in conference play; the loser would stare at a 4-9 record and the notion of having to win every game left just to break even. What took place for the better part of 30 minutes on Monday night looked exactly like a contest between two bottom-dwellers, regardless of the names on the fronts of the jerseys. And if that wasn’t enough, a comedy of head-scratching coaching decisions down the stretch left most observers wondering what the heck they just witnessed. Nevertheless, a 70-64 overtime win for Baylor proved to be a tremendous feat for a team clinging to hopes of an at-large bid. Here are three thoughts on the showdown that was in Waco Monday night.
- It’s no secret that since Oklahoma State center Michael Cobbins went out with an Achilles injury in early January that the Cowboys have been vulnerable on their front line. Baylor forward Cory Jefferson was able to take advantage of early foul trouble on forwards Le’Bryan Nash and Kamari Murphy, finishing the game with 25 points and 13 rebounds. Isaiah Austin, on the other hand, started slowly, but he played great down the stretch in contributing 12 points and 12 rebounds. Even some of the most loyal Cowboys’ fans would be fibbing if they told you they expected to see stretches featuring reserves like Marek Soucek and Mason Cox; because of this, Baylor was able to extend its zone to a point where they played four defenders past the free throw line to minimize the impact that Oklahoma State’s shooters could have from deep.
- Despite its struggles in defending Baylor’s NBA-level size, Oklahoma State was still in a position to win this game and they have Phil Forte and Markel Brown to thank for that. The two combined to play 89 of a possible 90 minutes and accounted for 72 percent of the Cowboys’ total point production last night. You couldn’t help but feel bad for these two guys given the effort that each put forth, but without Marcus Smart in the lineup, there’s just not much else available. And speaking of Smart, he still managed to stay relevant by directing a tweet at a prominent Oklahoma State fan blog while he was back in Stillwater. While this is certainly not a huge deal, it bears repeating that Smart will have to deal with the opinions expressed by media members and fans alike. When you pair this latest event with everything else that has taken place surrounding the sophomore’s attitude and actions in the last few months, it adds yet another hit to his overall perception in the eyes of the rest of the basketball universe.
- Last but certainly not least, can anyone explain the coaching decisions made by Travis Ford and Scott Drew in the last minute of this game? With approximately 45 seconds to play, Baylor had the ball up by three and Ford elected to not have his team foul in favor of letting 30 seconds run off the clock. I couldn’t understand why Oklahoma State wouldn’t put a Baylor player on the free throw line to try to extend the game. As it turned out, that perplexing decision ultimately worked for the Cowboys, which had the ball with a chance to tie in the last 10 seconds and brings me to my next point. With 3.5 seconds left to play and a three-point lead, Baylor’s Gary Franklin floated a pass to nobody in particular at midcourt, which was retrieved by Leyton Hammonds and allowed Oklahoma State to drill a 23-footer as time expired to push the game to overtime. In a nutshell, it was like the last minute of this game gave us a keener understanding as to why these two teams find themselves in eighth and ninth place in Big 12 play this season.