The Baylor Bears defeated the Iowa State Cyclones, 77-72, in the Big 12 men’s basketball conference opener for both teams at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, on New Year’s Day.
It was a matchup of Top 10 teams, as Baylor (13-0, 1-0 in Big 12) entered the game No. 1 and Iowa State (12-1, 0-1) entered the game No. 8.
How big was Saturday’s game? Well, in the last 40 years, it was the fourth time that two teams that were 12-0 faced off in men’s college basketball. It was also a matchup of two of the remaining four undefeated teams in the game.
What an incredible way to tip off the Big 12 schedule.
Baylor ended up with four players in double figures — James Akinjo with 16 points, L.J. Cryer with 13 points, Jeremy Sochan with 12 points and Adam Flagler with 10 points. While Baylor had a double-digit lead in the second half, Iowa State used its defense to force four turnovers during a 9-0 scoring run that cut Baylor’s lead to 70-65 with 2:14 left.
But the Cyclones couldn’t make it a one-possession game. Tristan Enaruna had a career night, scoring 23 points, along with grabbing eight rebounds. Izaiah Brockington added 18 points and eight rebounds, while Tyrese Hunter scored 12 points and had a team-high four assists.
Here are our three takeaways from the game.
Here’s Why Baylor is No. 1
The Bears, to many, were set to take a step back after losing four guards from last year’s national championship team. Well, so much for that.
Why haven’t the Bears taken that step back? Balance.
Last year’s team was built around guard Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell. The Bears still have a high-scoring backcourt with holdover sixth man Adam Flagler, transfer James Akinjo and sophomore L.J. Cryer, the last of which entered the game as the Bears’ leading scorer despite not starting.
But, now, there’s more offense coming from inside. Sochan, a true freshman, had a quality game offensively. There is offensive improvement from holdover forwards Flo Thamba (who had nine points on Saturday) and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (who only had four points but averaged nine points per game entering the game). They’re more than just defensive stoppers now.
Holdover forward Matthew Mayer scored nine points, while freshman forward Kendall Brown added just four points. But, like Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Brown averages better than that.
Head coach Scott Drew played eight on Saturday. All eight players scored at least four points. Five of them had at least four rebounds. Three of them had at least three assists.
These Bears work together with great efficiency. They shot 50 percent, shot 41.2 percent from the 3-point line and 71.4 percent from the free-throw line. Yes, they had 19 turnovers because Iowa State’s defense is relentless. But the Baylor defense forced 17 turnovers because the Bears are just as good on that side of the ball, too.
The Bears aren’t unbeatable. But they’re hard to beat when they play like that.
Tristan Enaruna Needs to be That No. 2 Guy
Cyclones guard Izaiah Brockington is having an All-Big 12 season already, averaging 16.9 points per game and a Big 12-leading 8.4 rebounds per game (along with Tchamwa Tchatchoua) entering Saturday’s game. He also led the Big 12 in double-doubles — and he had never had a double-double before this season. Brockington had a solid game, but Baylor defending him well and minimized his impact on the game in the second half.
That opened the door to Tristan Enaruna to have his second straight game with at least 19 points. Enaruna, the Kansas transfer, scored 19 points against Chicago State, a season-high, before the holiday break. But that’s against Chicago State. What Enaruna did against Baylor was far more impressive.
His career-high night included an 8-for-11 game from the floor and a 7-for-8 game at the free-throw line.
This is an important development for ISU. The Cyclones need scoring help. Early in the season, it looked like that would come from Gabe Kalscheur, who dropped 30 points on Memphis in late November. But, for the fifth time in six games, he failed to hit double figures. Freshman Tyrese Hunter can be a consistent scorer, but he’s also running the point.
If Enaruna can continue to score like this, it would give the Cyclones a consistent interior scorer, something they desperately need as they enter a stretch of Big 12 play that sees them playing just about every league contender in the first three weeks.
‘Hilton Magic’ is Back
Forget the reduced crowds last season — the Cyclones won just two games. There was no such thing as ‘Hilton Magic.’
But, on New Year’s Day, a day where many folks are trying to wipe a night of partying out of their eyes, Hilton Coliseum was jammed and rocking and as hostile as ever. As it should be.
Contrast that with the environment at the Erwin Center, as Texas defeated West Virginia with relative ease. The Erwin Center was about half full, and Longhorns head coach was offering mimosas and cheap tickets. Sure, there were no students on campus in Austin. But, guess what? There were no students on campus at Ames, either.
The magic is back at Hilton Coliseum, and for the remaining eight teams that have to come there for Big 12 play, well, it’s gonna be rough.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.