There was a long stretch of the first half of Baylor's narrow 75-70 win over Xavier where the Bears were just straight-up outclassing the Musketeers. Perry Jones III was scoring easy, Quincy Acy was dunking on everyone, Baylor controlled the glass, controlled the tempo they were cake-walking.
As tough and feisty as Xavier had shown itself to be all season, it seemed like the talent gulf was just too vast. Baylor, after all, has one of the most talent-rich rosters in the country with about three or four future NBA draft picks Jones III, in particular, a surefire lottery pick. Xavier? They might have one future pro and, in Tu Holloway's case, it's iffy.
"They are more talented than us," said Xavier coach Chris Mack. "I was honest with my kids. I told them that last night when we went over the scouting report. But last time I checked, effort beats talent."
Right. See, that's the thing; because with about five minutes left in the first half, down 33-16, Baylor went into semi-zombie mode, Xavier turned up the aggression and (boom!), the Musketeers went on a 13-3 run to end the half. For the game's final 20 minutes, it was basically even-stevens, with Xavier usually dictating the play on the floor.
When asked if, based on the talent disparity that was conspicuous at the game's start, there were portions of the game that disappointed him, Baylor coach Scott Drew was candid, albeit casual.
"Most definitely," he said, acknowledging some disappointment. "When we had it up to 17, 18 points, then I thought we had a run there where we gave them some transition baskets that we shouldn't have given. That's probably the biggest thing Xavier did. Like Quincy Acy had a great dunk, and they're scoring a layup three seconds later."
Or take stud Jones III, for example. Xavier had absolutely no answer for him. He scored with such ease, going 7-8 from the field, that it seemed pretty clear he could do almost whatever he wanted to the Xavier defensethat's if he wanted to. The young big man didn't shoot a free throw and was invisible for most of the game, but not because the Musketeers were shutting him.
"Yeah, I think I turned down a lot of shots, turned down a lot of opportunities," said Jones III. "I could have been more aggressive getting to the hole."
His coach mentioned that Jones constantly deals with expectations and "people wanting more out of him" and fairly pointed to the win as an "if it ain't broke" defense of Jones III's performance. But Baylor can't afford disappearing acts from Jones III as it faces the more talent-stocked teams still alive in this tournament.
There was an "if only we wouldn't have let them jump out on us" cloud hanging over the Xavier locker room.
"Coming into the game, we had talked about not falling behind early, which it plagued us against Notre Dame and Lehigh," said Mack. "Baylor is extremely talented, but they did some things that were out of character in terms of how they playQuincy Acy on film, I never saw him hit a 15 foot jump shot, and he does that in the first four minutes of the game.
"We definitely didn't want Brady Heslip to get any catch and shoot 3s. He hadn't taken a dribble and scored the entire tournament. What does he do? He goes two chase dribbles to the basket for his first four points."
Might sound like spilled milk, but if Mack regretfully looks at this game as a lost one, there's a good amount of reasons why. It's not a stretch to say they outplayed Baylor for most of the game.
What the Bears can take pride in, on the other hand, was the 1-2 punch performance of senior Acy and point guard Pierre Jackson. Acy was the best and most valuable player on the court, leading Baylor with 20 points and 15 boards (and, speaking of him never hitting a jumper, he's 3-5 from long range this year so take that Coach Mack) and Jackson played a heady floor game with 10 assists against just three turnovers. Whenever Xavier wanted to make things scary, Acy or Jackson would help Baylor stave off a comeback.
Ultimately, it might be a little petty to dissect a Baylor win that sends them to the Elite 8 for the second time in three years, but there should be concern moving forward. Baylor won't be this much bigger and better than any team they meet for the rest of the tournament.