After winning on the road in historically tough venues like Allen Fieldhouse and Texas Tech’s United Supermarkets Arena, the top-ranked Baylor Bears weren’t intimidated by an overflow crowd of 11,092 packed into Florida’s O’Connell Center.
Two years after getting blown out on this same court, the Bears (17-1) turned up the defensive heat and rode the hot hands of MaCio Teague and Devonte Bandoo to an impressive 72-61 road win over the Florida Gators on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
“This is a difficult place to play. They had students camping out, they had tons of energy, excitement. And it was a great win,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team won its 16th-consecutive game and matched its best start in program history. “They started out on fire, and our guys with experience weathered the storm and I thought really responded the right way.”
Teague and Bandoo combined to knock down five 3-pointers and scored 16 points apiece, helping the Bears improve to 6-1 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and knot this year’s series at 5-5.
“Coach Drew always tells us to hold our own in these challenges,” said Teague, who was 5-of-12 from the field and added six rebounds, three assists and a block. “That’s what we try to do each and every time we go out and play.”
Hitting six of its first nine shots, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range, Florida (12-7) jumped out to a 17-9 lead in the first 6 ½ minutes.
But, Baylor fought back and took its first lead of the game, 25-23, on a Bandoo 3-pointer with 7:15 left in the half. The difference in the game was a closing 13-2 run in the last five minutes of the half, which began and ended with Teague 3-pointers and gave the Bears a 40-29 lead at the break.
“I didn’t want to go to halftime,” Drew said. “Let’s just keep playing, let’s stay out here, everything’s working. We didn’t want that break. But, that was huge to get that separation at the end of the first half, and that was really the difference in the game.”
The Gators missed seven of their last eight shots, getting their only bucket on a Kerry Blackshear Jr. layup with 1:13 left. Freddie Gillespie had a three-point play in the decisive run and scored seven of his nine points in the first half.
“Early on, we couldn’t get any stops, and we didn’t get as many good looks,” Drew said. “Then, as the first half went on, we started to get stops, started to get rebounds, started to get great looks. Devonte was on fire, MaCio had some good looks, Jared (Butler) had some good looks. When we’re sharing the ball, we’re really good.”
Carrying that momentum over to the second half, Baylor stretched the lead to 53-34 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Davion Mitchell and Bandoo.
“Baylor made it look ugly for us at times tonight,” said Florida coach Mike White, whose team had upset then-No. 4 Auburn, 69-47, just seven days earlier.
Florida had a chance to get within single digits late, but missed the front end of three-straight one-and-one free throw situations. On the flip side, Baylor clinched it at the line, hitting 15-of-16 overall and 9-of-10 in the closing minutes.
Mitchell was 7-of-8 from the line and gave the Bears their fourth double-figure scorer with 12 points and a career high-tying six assists. Butler added 10 points and three assists despite being limited by two first-half fouls, while Freddie Gillespie had nine points, seven rebounds, one block and a steal.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that have been through the battles and wars,” Drew said, “and they don’t get rattled as easy as someone that hasn’t.”
Sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson, who scored a game-high 20 points, called Saturday’s performance “one of our bad defensive games.” Baylor was 9-of-19 from 3-point range and shot 43.6 percent overall (24-of-55).
“They were more connected than we were,” Johnson said. “They shot the ball with confidence, knowing their shots were going to go in.”