Baylor Basketball: Bears advance to Battle 4 Atlantis final with drubbing of Michigan State

For the second straight day, Baylor basketball trailed at the half, only to overwhelm their opponent in the second 20 minutes.

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On Wednesday, the Baylor Bears trailed VCU by eight points at halftime before finding their way on the interior and limiting their turnovers against the Commodores’ pressure defense.

A day later, the Bears once again put everything altogether in the second half. Scott Drew’s team trailed by three points to the Michigan State Spartans after the first 20 minutes, but found a more balanced attack in the second frame.

The Bears improved to 5-0 on the season and 2-0 in the Battle 4 Atlantis, as they captured a 73-58 win over the shaky 24th ranked Spartans. The Bears were led by Johnathan Motley, who scored 26 points on 12-of-22 shooting and grabbed six rebounds. Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. was the only other player in double figures for the Bears, as he recorded 14 points.

Motley had 20 of his 26 points in the first half and seemed to disappear for stretches in the second frame. However, the Bears as a whole certainly didn’t back down against Michigan State.

As a matter of fact, they flexed their muscles, showing off their size, strength and front court prowess. They also moved the ball at a high level, found good shots around the rim and made efficient plays and good decisions in transition.

The Bears shot 47 percent from the field overall, out-rebounded the Spartans by seven and had 24 assists on 30 field goals. Most importantly, they only recorded seven turnovers all afternoon.

So far this season, the Bears have proven that they are a Big Ten contender. They ran Oregon (without Dillon Brooks) off the court in Waco and won two more quality games against VCU and Michigan State after making critical halftime adjustments.

That not only shows that the Bears are well coached, but that they are experienced. None of their starters are underclassmen and they have steady point guard play from former Miami Hurricane Manu Lecomte.

While Baylor looks like the early favorite to finish second in the Big 12, Michigan State is on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Spartans are going through major growing pains.

They did look impressive in their victory over St. John’s on Wednesday evening, but their flaws manifested themselves again on Thanksgiving.

Tom Izzo is relying on four freshman to play major roles on both ends of the floor in the early portion of the season. Miles Bridges has been excellent, but as we mentioned previously, he’s not a go-to offensive player at this stage in his development. Cassius Winston has shown flashes, but hasn’t been consistent. Josh Langford has struggled with foul trouble. And finally, Nick Ward has trouble when defenses force him to finish with his left hand.

The Spartans still need Eron Harris to shoot the ball better (three points on 1-of-9 shooting on Thursday) and it’s necessary for them to find some shot creation in the half court.

When Baylor began the game in their 1-3-1 zone defense, Michigan State moved the ball crisply and were rewarded with easy baskets at the rim. It seemed like every player on the court touched the ball on the majority of MSU’s early-game possessions. But when the Bears switched to man-to-man, Michigan State’s issues creeped up once again.

It’s going to be a process for MSU throughout the regular season, so they cannot rely on a possible return from either Ben Carter (who is expected to miss the season) or Gavin Schilling.

Moving forward, the Spartans will play the loser of Louisville-Wichita State Friday in the Battle 4 Atlantis 3rd place game. Meanwhile, Baylor will face the winner of that same game in the championship game at 3:30 p.m. ET on Friday.

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