NCAA Baylor New Mexico St Basketball

Baylor guard Al Freeman (25) moves the ball up court past New Mexico State’s Eli Chuha (22) on Friday. With its 91-73 win over NMSU, Baylor improved to 9-6 under Scott Drew in seven NCAA tournament appearances since 2008.

Associated Press — Tony Gutierrez

TULSA, Okla. — With its 91-73 thrashing of New Mexico State, Baylor improved to 9-6 under Scott Drew in seven NCAA tournament appearances since 2008.

Though the Bears reached the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012 and the Sweet 16 in 2014, the biggest story line coming into the game were first-round losses to lower seeded Georgia State and Yale in the last two NCAA tournaments.

The Bears gained a great sense of relief by avoiding a first-round upset by New Mexico State on Friday at the BOK Center. Trailing 40-38 at halftime, the Bears dominated the second half, 53-33.

“They say the first game is always the toughest,” said Baylor forward Terry Maston, who collected 19 points and nine rebounds. “It might not seem like it, but usually it always is. New Mexico State was a great team. They play really physical and really fast, so we adjusted to how they were playing and gratefully we came out with the win.”

After the grind of Big 12 play, the Bears were happy to get outside of the league and let their offense fly.

Since Big 12 teams know each other so well, the games often turn into physical, halfcourt slugfests that produce fewer points.

Baylor’s 91 points against New Mexico State were its most ever in an NCAA tournament game and the most this season since a 107-53 win over John Brown on Dec. 18. It marked the Bears’ most points against a Division I team this year as they improved to 16-0 against nonconference opponents.

“We can beat up on new people,” said Baylor forward Ish Wainright. “Here you can play against anybody, any level, low Division I, high Division I. But it’s just a relief winning.”

Baylor and USC will play for the first time Sunday in the round of 32 after the 11th-seeded Trojans pulled off a 66-65 win over sixth-seeded SMU on Friday.

USC coach Andy Enfield said he and Baylor coach Scott Drew are friends, and he’s looking forward to seeing him. However, he knows how difficult it will be for the Trojans (26-9) to beat the higher seeded Bears.

“Scott has just done a miraculous job with how he’s built the program over the years and the players they’ve had,” Enfield said. “They’re long, athletic. They have guards that can shoot, and there’s a reason why they’re a 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. They’re just an outstanding basketball team, but so are we, so it should be a great game.”

Baylor’s Scott Drew was named national coach of the year by Basketball Times.

Unranked in the preseason polls, the Bears entered the NCAA tournament ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press poll and No. 11 in the coaches poll.

The Bears improved to 26-7 for the season with their 91-73 win over New Mexico State in the first round of the East regional. Baylor tied for second in the Big 12 with Iowa State and West Virginia.

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