STILLWATER, Okla. – Baylor’s depth and experience eventually overwhelmed an Oklahoma State team that was missing star freshman Cade Cunningham due to COVID-19 protocols.
Jared Butler scored 22 points, and the second-ranked Bears rallied from a halftime deficit to beat Oklahoma State 81-66 on Saturday.
Cunningham, the Big 12 Conference's leading scorer, hasn't been practicing. He was cleared for activity on Saturday, but coach Mike Boynton said Cunningham wasn't ready to play. Key reserve Rondel Walker also sat out with an arm injury, leaving Oklahoma State with eight players available.
The Cowboys still pushed the Bears, leading in the early minutes of the second half before Baylor took control. The Bears shot 53% after the break.
“That’s the difference in a player-led team, an experienced team,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “You have to feel what’s going wrong. And they knew defensively we weren’t as good as we normally are and rebounding, we weren’t as good as we normally were. So credit them for taking care of that.”
Mark Vital scored a career-high 19 points and Davion Mitchell had eight points and nine assists for Baylor (14-0, 7-0). Gonzaga also has started the season 14-0, making this the first time the preseason Nos. 1 and No. 2 each won their first 14 games of a season since the preseason poll began in 1961-62.
Kalib Boone scored a career-high 21 points and Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe added 13 points and 10 rebounds for Oklahoma State (9-4, 3-4).
It was a quality effort for roughly 30 minutes for Oklahoma State.
“There's no doubt that part of it is we were gassed," Boynton said. “We weren't able to sustain it. That's not an excuse, it's reality.”
The Cowboys looked ready to perhaps follow their upset win against Kansas on Jan. 12 with an even bigger stunner. A dunk by Boone on a lob from Moncrieffe gave the Cowboys a 21-17 lead, causing Drew to call a timeout.
A 3-pointer by Bryce Williams put the Cowboys up 26-20, and another 3 by Williams minutes later pushed Oklahoma State's lead to 34-25.
The Cowboys, paced by Boone's 11 points, led 36-32 at the half.
Baylor tied the game at 36 on a layup by Vital in the first minute of the second half, and a 3-pointer by Butler put the Bears up 39-38.
Three consecutive 3s by Butler in a 75-second span put the Bears up 63-51, and they controlled the game from there.
“Man, he’s ridiculous,” Mitchell said of Butler. “He can really play the game of basketball. He’s not cocky with it. He loves playing with us. And when he was making those shots, he was telling us ‘good pass.’ It’s just like, he didn’t really care about himself. He cared about his teammates playing.”
Baylor: The Bears did what they had to do — they scratched out a win on the road in a hostile environment. The socially distanced crowd at Gallagher-Iba Arena was energetic and affected the game, especially in the first half.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys showed that they have the talent to compete with one of the nation's best teams, even without one of the nation's best players.
Oklahoma State outrebounded Baylor 23-12 in the first half, but Baylor won the matchup 22-14 in the second half.
Drew said his team was disappointed in its first-half rebounding effort.
“That’s one of the things we do as a team is competing on the glass,” Drew said. “I think the guys raised up to the challenge and really did a much better job of finding blockouts — holding blockouts —- and then on the offensive end, being able to get free and get rebounds.”
Boynton on Baylor: “I believe they are one of the best two, three teams — maybe the best team in the country. And if that’s true, I also like our team a lot.”
Baylor hosts Kansas State on Wednesday.
Oklahoma State visits Iowa State on Monday.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.