STILLWATER, Okla. — Exploding for 22 points, Baylor guard Jared Butler did his usual thing against Oklahoma State, but this time the Bears’ defensive whiz showed he could score a little too.
Hitting eight of nine shots, senior forward Mark Vital scored a career-high 19 points as the No. 2 Bears overcame a sluggish first half to roll to an 81-66 win Saturday afternoon at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
It marked the first time Vital has scored in double figures this season, and topped his previous high of 17 points against Gonzaga in the second round of the 2019 NCAA tournament. Vital also contributed five rebounds, two blocks and two steals as the Bears improved to 14-0 overall and 7-0 in the Big 12.
“Mark played really well, he finished in traffic, he played tough out there, he grabbed all the rebounds, he finished all his lay-ins,” said Baylor guard Davion Mitchell, who collected nine assists. “We just kept looking for him and he kept finishing.”
There was no stopping Butler either as he nailed six of seven 3-point shots after hitting seven of nine beyond the arc in Monday’s 77-69 win over No. 9 Kansas. Butler also dished out six assists.
“My teammates were finding me,” Butler said. “Davion does a great job. I kind of get excited when he starts going toward the goal because I know he’s looking for me. Adam (Flagler) did a great job. I just think with the multiple threats on our team, sometimes they forget about me just because of how good our team is.”
Playing their first game since a win over Kansas on Jan. 12 after two games were postponed due to COVID-19 protocol, the Cowboys (9-4, 3-4) were without Big 12 leading scorer Cade Cunningham and guard Rondel Walker. Cunningham was still in COVID-19 protocol while Walker was out with an arm injury.
But that didn’t stop the Cowboys from coming out attacking the basket aggressively and dominating the boards 23-12 in the first half to take a 36-32 halftime lead. Kalib Boone finished with 21 points and seven rebounds while Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe collected 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“I know our guys were excited to go against Cade because they know Cade,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “When we found out he wasn’t playing, and then when we found out Walker wasn’t playing, obviously that changed what they were going to do. You could see right away with their interior, how many offensive rebounds and how many shots in the paint they got, that’s what they shifted to.”
Trailing by a season-high nine points late in the first half, the Bears grabbed a 39-38 lead early in the second half when Butler drained a 3-pointer.
But the Cowboys still led 50-48 when Isaac Likekele hit a free throw with 12:22 remaining in the game. The Bears responded with a 19-1 run to take the lead for good.
Baylor tied the game when Mitchell spotted Vital for a layup. After MaCio Teague blocked Avery Anderson’s shot, Flagler found Mitchell streaking downcourt for a layup before Butler passed to Vital in the paint to give the Bears a 54-51 lead.
Butler then drained three straight 3-pointers to push Baylor’s lead to 63-51 with 8:34 remaining.
“Man, he’s ridiculous,” Mitchell said. “He can really play the game of basketball, and he’s not cocky with it. He loves playing with us. When he was making those shots, he was telling us, ‘good pass.’ He didn’t really care about himself, he cared about his teammates more than himself.”
After a Vital steal, Teague hit a jumper before Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua scored inside to stretch Baylor’s lead to 67-51 with 6:49 remaining.
“When Mark (Vital) made those baskets inside, it not only opened things outside, it gave us mojo and gave us confidence,” Drew said. “At the end of the day, it’s hard (for the defense) to extend when you’re getting layups.”
The previous two wins over Texas Tech and Kansas followed a similar pattern as Baylor delivered surges midway through the second half to take control of the game.
“First of all, our depth comes into play,” Drew said. “The fact that we can rotate guys, keep guys fresh, I think that’s huge. The second thing would be the experience of our guys. Normally, experienced players go to another level in the last 10 minutes of the game.”
After committing a combined 34 turnovers in the last two games, the Bears committed just 10 turnovers against the Cowboys while collecting 19 assists. The Bears shot 52.9 percent in the second half while controlling the boards 22-11.
“That’s the great thing with an experienced team because obviously we were all frustrated with (rebounding),” Drew said. “That’s one of the things we do is credit ourselves with competing on the glass. I think the guys rose up to the challenge and did much better finding blockouts, holding blockouts, and then on the offensive end being able to get free to get rebounds.”