No. 2 Baylor uses stout defense to get past No. 5 Illinois

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Illinois’ Giorgi Bezhanishvili (15) looks to shoot as Baylor’s Mark Vital (11) and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (23) defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Scott Drew watched No. 2 Baylor’s first two games in quarantine.

When he returned to the sideline Wednesday night, he found himself coaching in a vastly different atmosphere — and relying on a familiar script.

Adam Flagler scored 18 points, three of his teammates also reached double figures and Baylor used its trademark defense to turn the game and pull away from No. 5 Illinois for an 82-69 victory in the Jimmy V Classic.

To Drew, it felt like old times.

“The last two games I thought our offense was further along than our defense,” he said. “I think our defense has caught up more to where we were last year and you know you’re going to need it to play like that every night to win games.”

It’s bad news for the rest of college basketball, though.

Baylor (3-0) outrebounded the Fighting Illini 20-10 and forced twice as many turnovers as it committed in the second half while also outscoring Illinois in the paint and off the bench in the school’s first non-conference top-five matchup.

And after an uncharacteristic first half, Drew understood why his players might have been a little unnerved.

“I’m not going to lie, I was really excited to be back,” said Drew, who tested positive for COVID-19 three days before the scheduled season opener. “I missed the guys, I missed being part of the team and it was really exciting to be back.”

He was also excited, like his players, to be playing on national television in Indianapolis.

But the Bears did exactly what they needed to do. They drew fouls against Kofi Cockburn, turning him into a non-factor. And although Ayo Dosunmu led the Illini (3-1) with 18 points, he was just 6 of 18 from the field. Giorgi Beshanishvili finished with 15 points while filling in for Cockburn.

“It was a frustrating night,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “It was a great opportunity to learn. I’m disappointed in our loose balls in the second half, but give credit to them.”

The game also had a much more intense atmosphere than the previous two at Bankers Life Fieldhouse largely because of the raucous applause and loud cheers coming from the benches in what amounted to a draw for almost 30 minutes.

Baylor forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua started the decisive stretch by making two free throws with 12:51 left. That broke a 43-all tie and spurred the Bears to six straight points. After Illinois made a 3-pointer, Baylor scored five more points and then took control with another run, this time 9-0.

When it ended, Baylor led 65-51 with 7:31 left and the Illini never seriously challenged again.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: After last week’s scare against Ohio, the Fighting Illini wanted to bounce back with a strong performance. Underwood’s team certainly accomplished that much. It just didn’t pull off the kind of signature win it envisioned — but that may be only a matter of time.

Baylor: While Gonzaga has proven itself a worthy No. 1, the Bears can say the same about being No. 2. They’ve won their first three this season. They have enough offensive firepower, defensive tenacity and experience to play with — and beat — anyone in the country.

STAT PACK

Illinois: Andre Curbelo scored 11 points and was the only other Illini player in double figures. … Cockburn had seven points and four rebounds. … Illinois was outscored 24-7 in second-chance points and 38-30 in the paint.

Baylor: Davion Mitchell had 15 points and seven assists, while Jared Butler scored 12. … MaCio Teague added 11 points and Tchamwa Tchatchoua had nine points and nine rebounds.

THEY SAID IT

Illinois: “They fight like dogs for 40 minutes,” Beshanishvili said. “When you make mistakes, even the littlest mistakes, they cost you a lot.”

Baylor: “We kind of expected it,” Mitchell said when asked about the contributions of Flagler and Tcahmwa Tchatchoua. “Those guys are in the gym more than anyone so we kind of expect that from those guys. It wasn’t really a surprise for us.”

UP NEXT

Illinois: Hosts UT-Martin on Saturday.

Baylor: Prepares for Saturday’s showdown in Indy against No. 1 Gonzaga.

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