In their Big 12 opener January 2, No. 13 Baylor was on the receiving end of a 102-74 beating at Allen Fieldhouse and looked nothing like a team capable of contending for a conference title. Eighteen days later, Scott Drew’s Bears grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with a 79-72 double-overtime win over Kansas State in Waco.
The key in the extra sessions was guard Al Freeman, who scored all 11 of his points after the end of regulation. Freeman was responsible for all seven of Baylor’s points in the first overtime, and his scoring outburst came just in time for Baylor as they struggled to put away the Wildcats. Baylor wasn’t at their best, committing 19 turnovers (to be fair, K-State had 22) and allowing Kansas State to grab 17 offensive rebounds amongst other issues.
But they found a way to get the win, avoiding a defeat that would have caused a five-way tie atop the Big 12 standings.
Of those 19 turnovers Taurean Prince was responsible for six of them, and when combined with his 7-for-18 night from the field the senior wing wasn’t as efficient as he’s capable of being. That, along with the play of guards Freeman and Lester Medford (nine points, 13 assists and three turnovers) will be key for Baylor if they’re to remain a factor in the Big 12 race and remove the bad taste of last season’s hasty NCAA tournament exit from their collective mouths.
The talent is there, especially in the front court with Prince being joined by Rico Gathers Sr. and Johnathan Motley, and reserve Terry Maston averaging 10.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game in Big 12 play off the bench. How consistent the guards and the other key decision-makers (meaning Prince) can be with the ball in their hands will determine just how good Baylor can be.
If they’re all producing in their roles, Baylor will certainly have staying power. With No. 1 Oklahoma visiting Waco this weekend, Baylor couldn’t afford to lose to Kansas State. And thanks to Al Freeman getting going in overtime, the Bears will go into that game in sole possession of first place.