As we had expected – read: hoped and prayed – last night’s matchup of No. 7 Baylor and No. 14 Mississippi State turned into a real gem. It pitted two of the country’s best frontcourts against each other with Perry Jones III checking Arnett Moultrie and Quincy Acy battling Renardo Sidney.
Baylor faced a four-point deficit late but battled back to tie the game at 50. Over the next 5:43 we saw unrelenting defense that created a 2:23 scoring drought and allowed only six points from both teams combined.
Despite shooting just 6-28 FG and 0-8 3PT in the second half, Baylor relied on some key opportunities and crucial Bulldog mistakes to snatch the 54-52 victory. It was enough to move Baylor to a school record 13-0, dropping Miss St. to a disappointing but impressive 12-2 in a game that had late-March atmosphere even with a sparse crowd.
Every matchup lived up to its billing and both teams made statements about their intentions to make a postseason run. Where do they go from here? Here are five things we learned about last night’s battle between the best from the Big XII and SEC.
- Perry Jones III Has The Tools...: The sophomore forward had high points and low valleys last night against physical Bulldog defenders, but showed flashes of brilliance that – if harnessed – are enough to make him a shoe-in for the NBA Lottery in June and possibly a very successful pro. Jones III has the potential of a LaMarcus Aldridge type, with the combination of his length, athleticism and variety of moves around the basket. However, against Mississippi State defenders – mainly Arnett Moultrie – Jones III didn’t establish himself in good post position, clear space for himself or convert on the scoring opportunities he did have. He started out just 2-10 from the field and finished 4-13 with 8 points, which is alarming for a Baylor team that plans to make a run at the Final Four and would like to be able to count on their incredible inside asset in the clutch.
- …But Baylor Is A Backcourt Team: Jones III and frontcourt mates Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy make up one of the nation’s best post duos, but when the rubber hit the road and the Bears found themselves down by four in the final minutes, they turned to their guards. Pierre Jackson came off the bench to lead Baylor with 14 points, including a devastating crossover on Dee Bost that gave the Bears the final 54-52 lead with 28.8 seconds remaining and looked more like a Lotus darting past a stop sign. And with Jones III clanking shots one after the other, it was shooter Brady Heslip that knocked down three 3-pointers and scored all 11 of his points to keep Baylor leading 34-33 going into the half.
- Mississippi State Is Scary Deep…: All of Mississippi State’s 52 points came from six players that scored between 7-10 points each. Now that’s balance. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t efficient, but it did show that the Bulldogs have their go-to scorers (in Bost, Moultrie and Sidney) and a slew of capable glue guys (Hood, Steele and Bryant). Not many teams can match that weaponry and when the scoring slows to a crawl and you need big buckets, Mississippi State will have options when others don’t.
- …But, For Better Or Worse, Sidney Is Their Barometer: Mississippi State was, without a doubt, at their best when Renardo Sidney was on the court. Unfortunately, that wasn’t very often. He picked up two quick, stupid fouls and sat most of the first half, then in the second was consistently bullied out of position by the hard work of Baylor’s Acy and committed his fifth foul when he forgot to box Acy out and shoved him to the ground. Acy hit two free throws that erased the Bulldogs’ two-point lead, and Sidney is lucky that his subsequent technical foul didn’t cost them any more points. Not that it mattered, because Mississippi State didn’t score again. And just think: If Sidney boxes out and grabs that rebound, the Bulldogs have a two-point lead and the ball with 90 second to play. As it happened, his stupid foul robbed the Bulldogs of a vital scoring option over the final 1:35 of a tight, winnable game. Sidney is an incredible talent that can develop into a Zach Randolph type forward if he focuses on improving his skills and remembering the little things – like boxing out, good post position and catching entry passes – and makes the Bulldogs a viable threat to make a serious run into the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, right now it appears that he lacks the awareness needed to make the most of his value to his team.
- Baylor Is The Tiger Shark of College Basketball: You cannot leave a door open for Baylor because they proved on Wednesday night that they will bust that mother down. The Bears personify opportunism, grabbing 14 offensive rebounds and beating Mississippi State at the free-throw line (11-17 to 3-7). Most telling was the final sequence, when the Baylor zone defense – knowing that without Sidney, the Bulldogs wanted to get the ball to Bost – played incredible denial, forced a bad shot and then batted the loose ball into the other end of the court as time expired. A perfectly played finale for a team that, now at 13-0, is somehow still trying to prove that it’s for real.