Given the amount of interior talent on both teams, Sunday’s matchup between No. 16 Vanderbilt and No. 25 Baylor presented the 33 NBA scouts in attendance with a good opportunity to evaluate the likes of Vandy’s Damian Jones and Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. However it would be two Bears who spend a significant amount of time on the perimeter who had the greatest impact on the outcome, a 69-67 Baylor victory.
Versatile wing Taurean Prince scored 30 points to lead the way and Lester Medford added 11 of his 15 in the second half, three of which came on a critical three-pointer with 42 seconds remaining that produced the final margin.
Prince was one of the Big 12’s most improved players last season, and as a senior he’s expected by many to take another step forward for a team with Big 12 title aspirations. But leading into Sunday’s matchup his shooting percentages were lower than what he produced as a junior, shooting 37.3 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from three through six games.
That wasn’t an issue against Vanderbilt, as Prince shot 10-for-19 from the field and 4-for-7 from beyond the arc.
The senior carried Baylor offensively during a critical second-half stretch, as he scored seven points during a 13-0 run that erased a 52-39 Vanderbilt lead. Up until that point the Commodores, even with Damian Jones having a quiet night, appeared poised to run away with the game. Kevin Stallings’ team doesn’t lack for scoring options, and with sophomore guards Wade Baldwin IV (19 points, four assists) and Matthew Fisher-Davis (11 points, five rebounds) serving as the catalysts Vanderbilt established what appeared to be a comfortable margin.
But Prince and Medford, who assisted on three of the baskets scored during the run, turned the game around. And over the final 8:13 those two combined to score 14 of Baylor’s final 17 points, with a Johnathan Motley free throw and a Gathers Sr. (ten points, 13 rebounds) dunk accounting for the other three.
Prince’s effort was obviously critical, but given the questions asked by some of Baylor’s point guard play Medford’s second half may be the most important development moving forward. Entering Sunday the senior had a solid assist-to-turnover ratio, with 5.7 assists and 2.3 turnovers per game, but he was shooting just under 43 percent from the field.
While he did struggle in the Bears’ loss at No. 15 Oregon in mid-November, Medford’s two best offensive outings of the season have come in Baylor’s best wins. There was Medford’s 13-point, nine-assist game in a blowout win over Stephen F. Austin in the season opener, and Sunday night against Vanderbilt he accounted for 15 points, five assists and just one turnover. Baylor has one of the nation’s best front courts, and their ability to both keep Jones (nine points, eight rebounds) and Luke Kornet (seven points, four rebounds) in check and rebound 46.5 percent of their team’s missed shots (Gathers Sr. and Prince had 12 of Baylor’s 20 offensive rebounds) serves as evidence in the affirmative.
But if Baylor is to compete with the likes of Kansas, Iowa State and Oklahoma atop the Big 12 their perimeter play will be key. Medford stepped forward to assist Prince Sunday night, and that will need to be the case on a consistent basis when conference play begins next month.