Get stops and get going.
Such was the mindset of ninth-ranked Baylor as it opened up the second half against a well-coached Stanford team. In the throes of their first tight game of the season, the Bears threw caution to the wind and grew increasingly aggressive.
And, what do you know, it worked wonders.
Baylor harassed the Cardinal into a bevy of turnovers, and feasted in transition in seizing an 86-48 win on Saturday afternoon before an announced crowd of 7,048 at the Ferrell Center. It was the first Power Five test of the season for the defending national champion Bears (4-0), who claimed their first-ever win over Stanford in just the third meeting between the programs and the first since 1987.
Baylor coach Scott Drew said he didn’t utter any magic words at halftime. But he definitely recognized and appreciated the increased intensity from his guys, as they snatched control with an 11-0 second-half run.
“I wish I had all the answers, because we’d duplicate it every game,” Drew said. “I thought the first half we were solid defensively. Second half we were more aggressive. Once we got a couple of stops and got in transition, started making baskets, the crowd started getting involved, guys got amped up and it went to another level adrenaline-wise.”
Stanford hung right on the Bears’ hips for a half. Baylor led just 34-28 at the intermission after the Cardinal exposed the Bears with crisp passing, sharp cuts and sturdy inside position. Stanford shot 52.4% and stayed right within striking distance of the Bears, whose biggest lead was seven points.
But then the Bears tightened the clamps, and Stanford (3-2) couldn’t handle the pressure. Starting with a Flo Thamba bucket off a roll to the hoop, Baylor increased its lead from 34-29 a minute into the second half to 45-29 just five minutes later.
The Bears forced seven Stanford turnovers in that span, and those takeaways ignited a rapid-fire, crowd-pleasing fast-break game. Matthew Mayer faked one way and pivoted another for a jump hook in transition, Kendall Brown got loose for an easy layup, and Jeremy Sochan poked the ball away from a Stanford dribbler and powered ahead for a breakaway dunk.
“One thing, when you’re making shots, you get a couple of dunks, you can say what you want, but when you do that, you play a little harder on the defensive end,” Drew said. “Our guys played hard both halves. But that extra juice from getting out, and then once you get separation it makes it tough for a road team to continue to persevere and execute. They’re a team that plays more in a half court, so it makes it tough to come back.”
Stanford forward Jaiden Delaire eventually halted Baylor’s 11-0 run by drawing a foul and sinking two free throws at the 14:27 mark of the second half. But the Bears still managed to hold the Cardinal without a field goal for more than 10 minutes. Stanford’s first-second half bucket came at the 9:39 mark when Spencer Jones scored in the paint. At that point, it meant little, as Baylor had stretched to a 60-33 lead, and had this one in the book.
“I felt like we all just needed to come together, lock in on the defensive end, put together multiple stops in order to make the lead grow,” said BU sophomore guard LJ Cryer. “In the first half I felt like we didn’t get multiple stops in a row. We’d get a stop, let them score, get a stop, let them score. But just getting consecutive stops was what helped us go on that big run.”
Cryer scored a game-high 21 points, his third straight game of 20 or more. He drilled 8 of 12 shots from the floor, including 5 of 9 from 3-point land. His backcourt mate James Akinjo demonstrated a shrewd understanding in the fast break game of when to dump the ball off to the trailer, and delivered 11 assists, tying his career high that he set as a Georgetown freshman in 2019. Akinjo also hit for 11 points, one of four BU players in double-figure scoring.
Brown scored 15 points to go with three assists and three steals, while Sochan picked up 11 points and a pair of steals.
“If these guys can continue to find me, I’ll continue to hit make shots for (Akinjo), get him his assists. Hopefully that’ll be it,” Cryer said. “But I know I’ll have games where I’m off and it’ll be his night scoring the ball. And he can score the ball. I’m not really going into the game trying to get 20, I’m just trying to get the win at the end of the day.”
Baylor played without its top bench scorer, Adam Flagler, who missed the game with an injury to his left, non-shooting hand. But even minus Flagler and even with Mayer suffering an off-shooting performance (1-for-7 for four points), the Bears do not lack for options.
Obviously, for Baylor, it helps bringing in the highest-ranked recruiting class in program history. Brown, a five-star 6-8 guard out of Cottage Grove, Minn., flashed his range in the early stages, knocking down two 3-pointers in the first five minutes. He’s not just a dunker, folks. Meanwhile, Sochan, a four-star 6-9 forward from England by way of Germany’s Orange Academy, looked equally as smooth in his 19 minutes of action, hitting 4-of-7 from the floor and 3-of-4 from the line. (A third BU freshman, four-star guard Langston Love out of Universal City, Texas, is out for the season with an injury.)
Freshmen this poised and polished don’t come along that often. When they do, they’re usually lottery picks in the NBA Draft before long.
“You see it in freshmen who are going to be successful in the future,” Akinjo said. “I think that when you look at our freshmen, you know they’re going to be special.”
Stanford executed its half-court offense with precision in the first half to keep the game close. Baylor pushed out to a seven-point edge when Sochan beat his man on a show-and-go drive and then Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua scored down low off a feed from Sochan, extending the gap to 30-23 with 4:06 to play in the half.
Stanford rallied, narrowing the deficit to 32-28 when Delaire carved out inside position and scored with 36 seconds left. But Akinjo deserved a postgame root beer float, because his float game is top-drawer. Baylor held for the final shot and pushed the lead to 34-28 when the transfer guard penetrated into the paint and dropped in a floater at the buzzer.
The Bears, though, turned the second half into one long fast-break highlight package to run away with the win. Baylor forced 22 Stanford turnovers, while committing only nine of its own.
“Obviously, impressed with Baylor, they’re a heck of a program,” Stanford coach Jerod Haase said. “In the second half, we were completely overwhelmed.”
Now the Bears will head to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, as they open up with a second straight Pac-12 foe in Arizona State on Wednesday. Though they have some beach time and water slides on the agenda, the fun in the sun takes a backseat to the mission of winning more basketball games, the Bears said.
“It’s all business. The fun is after we win the tournament,” Akinjo said. “It’s all business. We come in, we have a couple of days before we play. We’re going to practice, get used to the Bahamas. We’re not really coming in to have fun, we’re coming to win.”
Baylor redshirt freshman Dain Dainja will enter the transfer portal, Drew announced. Dainja redshirted during the Bears’ national championship season. The 6-9 forward out of Brooklyn Park, Minn., was averaging 2.0 points per game this season in limited minutes.