Rush the Court will be providing on-site coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.
Three Key Takeaways.
- Al Freeman came up big for Baylor. The Bears’ guard lost his starting spot in the middle of conference play, but since returning he’s delivered some important performances off the bench. Freeman put together 21 points in the win on Friday afternoon while shooting 6-of-10 from the field, including 3-of-3 from behind the three-point arc. Freeman’s ability to stretch the floor — he came into the game hitting 37.3 percent of his threes — is vital to the Bears’ offense because they play with two traditional big men who don’t space the floor. Baylor needs the threat of Freeman’s outside shooting to create driving lines for point guard Manu Lecomte, and sometimes that three-point threat actualizes itself like it did today against New Mexico State.
- Baylor’s man-to-man defense stifled the Aggies. New Mexico State actually led by two points at the half on the back of 6-of-13 shooting from behind the three-point arc, but a defensive change from the Bears put a quick end to the Aggies’ hopes. Head coach Scott Drew had his team play strict man-to-man defense in the second half, which allowed his team’s length and athleticism to overwhelmed New Mexico State. This is one of the most frustrating things about Drew as a head coach. He’s consistently had the talent, athleticism and size to play man-to-man, but he often defaults to a 1-3-1 zone. That zone got shredded for the first 20 minutes, though, and the man-to-man defense brought the Bears back. Credit Drew for being willing to make the switch.
- The first half must have terrified Baylor fans. Since making the Sweet Sixteen in 2014, the Bears have failed to advance past the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. In each of the following two seasons, they lost to double-digit seeds in the Round of 64, first to an R.J. Hunter buzzer beater by Georgia State in 2015, followed by Makai Mason and Yale last year. With Baylor trailing at halftime and its opponent hot from deep, there was a definite sense of deja vu around Tulsa. Luckily, with strong performances from the bench and a switch up on the defensive end, the Bears were able to avoid a repeat of recent history.