It has been a while since Baylor has gotten off to a fast start on the basketball court.
The Red Raiders are normally awaiting the football players to get in basketball shape before making their move, hence the sluggish opening stretches.
That’s not the case this year.
Undefeated Baylor crushed Father Ryan in the second half Saturday night, holding the Fightin’ Irish to nine points and using a 21-5 run to solidify a 51-30 Division II Middle-East Region victory at Jimmy Duke Arena.
“I thought we were OK in the first half,” Baylor coach Mark Price said. “We weren’t 100 percent focused on the details, especially defensively. We got effort and defensive execution in the second half and that’s what got us going.”
The victory, coming on the heels of a 54-51 squeaker against Ensworth on Friday in Nashville, gives the Red Raiders a 15-0 start, the team’s quickest burst out of the starting gate in at least 17 years. Since 2001-02, Baylor’s fastest getaway was a 4-0 start in 2007-08.
Before this season, Baylor had lost its opening game in five straight seasons and six times since the 2001-02 campaign.
“I’m not concerned what our record is,” Price said. “I just want to see us improving; I want us getting better. I tell the guys they’re probably not going to play a perfect game over 32 minutes, but when 32 minutes are finished, we want to have done things better than in the previous game.”
Baylor (5-0 in the region) was a much different team after halftime than started the game.
The Red Raiders used six 3-pointers to build a 25-21 halftime lead after trailing the Irish, 13-8, after one quarter of play.
Blake Pruitt, a senior guard from Signal Mountain, started the game with a 3 and two more to give Baylor a 25-19 advantage.
“We were in our spots pretty good in the first half, but we weren’t executing,” Pruitt said. “Just because we were playing hard didn’t mean we were playing smart. He wanted us to stop being so reactive and get it done.”
Oh, brother, how Baylor got it done.
Pruitt dropped in a layup and nailed a 3 to trigger the Raiders’ decisive burst.
“We had three turnovers to get it rolling and it just snowballed,” Father Ryan coach Douglas Fontrager said. “If we could have kept it close, we might have been able to dictate some stuff, but that’s hard to do when you let it get away from you.”
This is how the rest of the third period played out:
Lorenzo White, a senior from Cleveland, knocked down a left-wing 3.
White then scored on a layup but missed the ensuing free throw.
Father Ryan’s Matthew Zito, who led the Irish with eight points, interrupted the Baylor spree with a layup with 32.5 seconds left in the third quarter.
Yep, the Irish (5-12, 2-3) scored two points in the period.
“We did a lot of it to ourselves,” Bontrager said. “We had some turnovers that led to some easier baskets for Baylor. Once they stretched the lead out, we had a hard time doing anything about it.”
Wiley Pippenger, a senior forward from Lookout Mountain, continued Baylor’s offensive outburst in the fourth period with two free throws. Nick Kurtz, sophomore out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, drove for a layup.
Greyson Linderman, another Lookout Mountain product, drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner.
Pippenger connected on a pair of charity tosses.
Hold your breath, Father Ryan found the basket again as Sean Clunan got loose for a layup.
Pippenger hit the lane for a layup to cap the run and Baylor was safe and sound with a 46-25 lead with 3:09 left.
Price felt good enough to deploy some reserves onto the court to mop up the night’s action.
“Our second half was the difference between trying hard and concentrating on what we’re trying to do with the defensive game plan,” he said. “I was especially proud of us defensively in the second half. That was the difference in the game.
“That was about as good as we can play in terms of all four phases of the game.”
The two teams will meet again at Father Ryan on Feb. 1.
What do the Irish have to do to pull off an upset?
“You’ve got to play sound, play like they play and don’t make mistakes,” Bontrager said. “They do exactly what they need to do and they never hurt themselves. That’s what makes Baylor hard to play against.”
For Baylor, the its basketball pride starts with defense.
The Raiders have dispatched 15 consecutive opponents by holding them to an average of 45.6 points per game. That’s while Baylor is scoring 59.5 points each time it takes the floor.
“We scored some points tonight, but we feel 100 percent better about holding them to four points in that stretch,” said Pruitt, who made four of the Raiders’ 10 3-pointers. “Coach was most proud of our defensive effort tonight as well.”
It was the fourth time Baylor held a team in the 30s and Father Ryan’s 30 is a season low. Brainerd managed 33 and Montgomery Bell Academy 34 and Signal Mountain 36. Only two teams have scored in the 60s – Maryville 66 and Ensworth 64.
Note: Baylor’s Beyuan Hendricks, a senior from Cleveland, was presented a ceremonial basketball prior to the game for scoring his 1,000th career point earlier in the season.
Father Ryan girls 37, Baylor 16: The Lady Fightin’ Irish threw some serious defense at the Lady Red Raiders, too.
Baylor (5-9, 1-5) was tied with the visitors at 14-14 at halftime and managed only two points in the second half and none in the fourth quarter.
Father Ryan had a 21-16 cushion after three quarters and outscored Baylor 16-0 over the final eight minutes.
Camille Knoll led Father Ryan (12-4, 4-1) with nine points.
Father Ryan 4 10 7 16 – 37
Baylor 5 9 2 0 – 16
Father Ryan (16) – Porcissard, Quitalig 2, Clunan 5, Hulse 8, Graham, Camille Knoll 9, Dooling 2, Thibeault, Hoots 2, Mackie 2.
Baylor (16) – Cooper, White 2, Stack, Restille, Barton, Rye, Shamblin, Gordon 4, Collins 3, Johnson, Gilbert 4, McKnight 3.
3-Point Goals – Father Ryan 3 (Clunan 1, Hulse 1, Knoll 1), Baylor 2 (Collins 1, McKnight 1).
Father Ryan 13 8 2 7 – 30
Baylor 8 17 10 16 – 51
Father Ryan (30) – Vandenbergh, Pfeifer 4, Young, McInnis 4, Conger, Clunan 2, Zito 8, Armstrong 2, Haugh 1, Smith 4, Tabscott 5.
Baylor (51) – Blake Pruitt 14, Johnson 2, Hendricks 9, White 5, Moore, Reap, Martin, Linderman 6, Kurtz 6, Pippenger 6, Baker, Thoni.
3-Point Goals – Father Ryan 1 (Tabscott 1), Baylor 10 (Pruitt 4, Hendricks 2, Linderman 2, White 1, Thoni 1).
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)