BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
The best era in Baylor basketball history continued on Saturday a win over an old Southwest Conference foe and a recent Elite Eight one
Freshman Keyonte Georgia had a team-high 24 points and LJ Cryer added 20 as the No. 17 Bears used a late 8-0 run late to down visiting Arkansas 67-64 in Waco, Texas.
Baylor (16-5), coming off a 75-69 home win over Kansas on Monday, won its sixth straight and survived before 10,697 fans at the Ferrell Center – the second largest crowd ever at the building.
Joseph Pinion’s potential game-tying 3-pointer from the right corner at the buzzer was awry before a crowd that included a hearty contingent of fans of the Razorbacks (14-7).
“Every ranked (Big 12) team has lost so far (today) but us,” Drew said of the Big 12-SEC Challenge. “We’ll take that because it was the most important game of the day. The Big 12 is off to a great start.
“We love representing the Big 12,” added Drew, whose team has gone 44-11 since winning the 2021 national championship over unbeaten Gonzaga.
The Arkansas-Baylor game was rematch of the national champion Bears’ 81-72 win over the Razorbacks in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight.
It was also part of the Big 12-SEC challenge, an event in which Baylor is now 8-2 and which the Big 12 led 5-3 with two games left to be played in the 2023 version on Saturday night..
Drew felt like Arkansas was primed for the contest.
“It is tough when you do that, because when you come out of the league, you are so entranced and drained and you are focused,” Drew said. “And then all of a sudden you play a league where you have heard nothing but ‘the Big 12 is the best league.
“It gives them a lot of motivation and excitement.”
Baylor hit only 1 of its last 16 shots to end opening half with Arkansas going on a 11-0 run to go into intermission with a 33-27.
But going 8 of 9 from the free throw line in the first 15:47 of the game kept the Bears, who ended the first half with a scoring drought of over four minutes, within striking distance.
“I am really proud of how we came back out in the second half after you go in the locker room and you are shooting 24 percent (8 of 33) and they are shooting 60 percent or 61 percent,” Drew said of Arkansas going 14 of 23 from the field before intermission, “And we’re are only down two possessions.
“We had to make sure, because we were all frustrated, to let them know that it was not all that bad. The second half we got back to playing Baylor basketball.”
Baylor won with George going 8 of 20 on his field goal attempts, but shooters Adam Flagler going 1 of 11 and Langston Love 1 of 6 from the field in a game where the Bears shot 33.9 percent ovrall from the field (20-of-59).
It helped they were 21 of 24 from the free throw line (compared to Arkansas hitting 6 of its 11 charity tosses – and had 15 offensive rebounds as both teams finished with 35 boards each.
“I’m telling you that if you can have a game where Flagler goes 1 for 11 and Jaylin is 1 of 6 – that’s 2 for 17 – and you win, that means you are doing a lot of (other) things well,” Drew said.
George had seven of his points inside of 13-2 run that flipped a 53-49 Arkansas lead with 6:08 left to a 62-55 Baylor advantage as George knocked down a 3-pointer with 1:21 remaining.
“Key really got on fire down the stretch and the free throw shooting – 21 of 24 was the difference – and the second chance points being 12 to (Arkansas’) 5 kept then out of transition,” Drew said.
Baylor led the rebounding battle 20-12 in the second half when Arkansas was 13 of 30 on its field goal attempts.
Ricky Council led Arkansas with 25 points with Devo Davis adding 16 and Anthony Black 7 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists with all three guards being 6-4 and over and causing issues for Baylor.
“The first half we were playing four guards and that was not a tough match up even though guys competed and battled,” Drew said. “…I thought in second half that we attacked it and I credit the guys for adjusting at halftime.”
“Hats off to the fans that helped us get the win fan provided the energy because when you are out of conference, you need an extra boost,” Drew said. “That’s huge.”
Baylor will play at Texas on Monday with Drew hoping the Longhorns had a tough game Saturday at No. 4 Tennessee.
“I am hoping that Texas and Tennessee goes to quadruple overtime,” Drew said. “We need the Big 12 to win. We want them to keep all doing well – the Big 12 – but we need a quadruple overtime and then travel after that.”