Baylor didn’t take its first lead of the game until around eight minutes were left in the second half, but the Bears were the better team down the stretch in an important 94-89 Big 12 road win at No. 13 Iowa State on Saturday afternoon.
Winning at Hilton Coliseum has been nearly impossible for opponents over the last few years. Iowa State has now won 30 of their last 32 games at Hilton but both losses came against Baylor the last two seasons.
While red-hot 3-point shooting got Baylor the comeback win in Ames last season, this season the Bears incorporated a triangle-and-2 defensive approach to slow down Georges Niang and the Cyclone offense. Niang was carving up the Baylor defense for most of the game, as he finished with 22 points, eight assists and six rebounds. But by face-guarding the versatile Niang and trailing him all over the floor with zone helpers, Baylor’s defense was able to take away one of the best players in America and the Iowa State offense struggled to adjust until it was too late.
Losing to a talented team like Baylor isn’t some kind of wakeup call for Iowa State but they’re going to need to figure out ways to get Niang the ball if other teams go with this type of defensive approach the rest of the season. With Niang not getting touches and Matt Thomas (eight points) going cold in the second half, it left Iowa State’s offense down to only a few players who could make a shot. And if a game is high-scoring like it was on Saturday, that could come back to hurt the Cyclones. Monte Morris (21 points), Abdel Nader (20 points) and Jameel McKay (13 points) all had productive afternoons, but they couldn’t trade buckets with Baylor once their offense stalled in the second half.
One the offensive side of things for Baylor, Jonathan Motley woke up and had a ridiculous outing after being quiet since mid-December. The 6-foot-9 sophomore finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds as he went 13-for-15 from the field. To put Motley’s outburst into perspective, he scored only 22 total points over his last five games.
With Motley playing well off of the bench, Baylor looked like a completely different team and it definitely energized them overall. Since Motley was a consistent third option, Lestor Medford was outstanding with the ball in his hands as he went for 16 points, 11 assists and zero turnovers and Taurean Prince also added a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Motley’s big afternoon also helped Baylor overcome off-days from Al Freeman and Rico Gathers, as the duo combined to go 2-for-11 from the floor.
Baylor didn’t look like one the Big 12’s elite teams in a blowout loss at Kansas earlier this month, but now they’ve already gotten two of the toughest road games in league play out of the way on the schedule and that could open things up for them a little bit in the Big 12 race. If Motley plays even a little bit like he did against Iowa State on Saturday, it makes the Bears a different team going forward.