With the way Baylor got to the free throw line, it didn’t really have to do much more offensively Sunday.
The 12th-ranked Bears actually shot 47 free throws to only 44 from the floor and had five players score in double figures, while the defense clamped down on Southern in the second half to pull away for an 81-56 victory at the Ferrell Center.
“As long as we shoot free throws well, that’s not a bad thing,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “I think we did a great job getting to the paint and, once the fouls started adding up, really not trying to settle for jump shots. Early in the game, we took a bunch of quick 3s. We were like, ‘Wait a minute. We can get better than that.’ I’m pleased with how the guys adjusted.”
Isaiah Austin paced a tightly packed group of scorers with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and also added a career-high four steals and blocked three shots. Brady Helsip added a quiet 13 points, while Rico Gathers and Cory Jefferson both stayed aggressive throughout.
Gathers put up 12 points and eight rebounds, with Jefferson going for 12 points and six rebounds. Both were 6-for-9 from the line and combined for a 7-for-14 night from the floor.
Baylor (10-1) didn’t shoot free throws well in the first half, hitting only 10 of its 19 attempts, but came out with better accuracy after halftime with a 22-for-28 effort for a 78.6 clip. When the Bears did shoot from the floor, they were successful 50 percent of the time.
“Free throws is one of those taboo things,” Drew said. “The more you talk about it sometimes, the worse it gets. We spend enough time shooting free throws and we have good enough shooters, they know what they’re capable of. Seventy-nine percent in the second half is a lot better than 52 percent.”
As it has several times early in the year, Baylor missed out on a chance to put the game away early.
The Bears jumped out to a 32-16 lead with 3:33 to go in the first half, but Southern scored 10 of the next 11 points, highlighted by a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws as part of Tre Lynch’s 27-point night off the bench, to pull within seven. Baylor knocked it back up to 10 by the break, but Drew wasn’t pleased that Southern was still hanging around.
“That’s something that we have to mature on as a team,” Drew said. “Especially with the 3-point shot, the speed the game is played, there’s a lot of different runs when you watch games, no matter who you’re watching, there’s always ebbs and flows.
“But we have to continue to grow and get better when we get a five-point lead, we grow it to eight, and eight to 10, and 10 to 12, and keep working up the ladder versus getting up nine, 10, 11, next thing you know it’s tied or it’s a one-possession game.”
The problem for Lynch, who was 5-for-7 from 3-point range and made 10 of his 11 free throws attempts, was he didn’t get much help offensively.
No one else scored in double figures for the Jaguars (3-9), as Javan Mitchell fouled out with 5:17 to go and eight points. Yondarius Johnson and Calvin Godfrey entered as Southern’s leading scorers, but they combined for only two points on 1-for-8 shooting combined. Godfrey’s only contribution came on the boards, where he was the Jaguars’ leader with seven.
“We had (Lynch) being a shooter, so the main thing was to make him dribble, just make him work,” said Baylor guard Kenny Chery, who had 10 points and four assists. “We knew he was a good scorer, so we wanted to make him work to score. He had a good game, but we stopped the other guys. Probably their best player, which was Calvin Godfrey, we did a great job on him. We have to credit our big men for that, and that was pretty much it.”
Baylor’s struggles from the free throw line and Southern’s 43 percent shooting in the first half kept the Jaguars in the game, but the Bears didn’t allow things to get close again after building a double-digit margin after intermission.
Baylor made only three field goals in the first 10-plus minutes of the second half, but got into the double bonus early and went 13-for-16 from the line during that span to build a 55-39 lead that stretched when Heslip beat the defense back down the floor and Chery hit him with a long lead pass for a 3-pointer out of the corner, then Chery drilled a trey of his own to make it a 64-42 game with 7:40 left and all but put it away.
“It’s great (having balance),” Austin said. “Nobody on this team is selfish at all. Sometimes I’ll have four points, Cory will have 30, Kenny will have 20 some games, and some games Brady won’t get up a shot, but nobody complains. We’re all in it for the long run. We want to win games, and we’re a great brotherhood right now.”
Baylor will take eight days off for Christmas before returning to action by hosting Oral Roberts at 7 p.m. Dec. 30.