Baylor is rolling, plowing through a schedule chock-full of Top 25 teams while riding a seven-game winning streak and showing plenty of swagger.
The challenge now for the 10th-ranked Bears in the run-up to Big 12 Conference play will be to keep that momentum, beginning with a Wednesday dust-up against Tennessee-Martin as part of the six-team The Battleground 2K19 event in Houston’s Toyota Center.
Baylor heads to Houston on the heels of a 53-52 win over then-No. 18 Butler in Waco, Texas, last Tuesday that marked the Bulldogs’ first loss of the season.
Devonte Bandoo, and MaCio Teague scored 10 points each, and Mark Vital made a game-saving block in the final seconds for the Bears (8-1) to secure the victory. It was Baylor’s third win this season against a top-20 opponent.
“The great thing is playing early in the year like this, it really allows each team to see where they’ve got to get better to win their league and have a chance to be successful in March,” Baylor coach Scott Drew told reporters after the game. “Coming in, we knew how tough it was going to be. Fitting that we won on the defensive end.”
The Bears have forged their longest nonconference win streak since starting 15-0 in 2016-17.
Baylor forward Freddie Gillespie said winning games the way the Bears are will be important as the team prepares for the gauntlet that is the Big 12 schedule.
“It’s huge. It helps build confidence,” Gillespie said. “Also, like Coach Drew said earlier, some early exposures to really good teams helps. You know the Big 12 is known for its parity, so it helps our preparation for that.”
UT Martin (3-6) wraps up a treacherous eight-game road trip with the game in Houston against Baylor. The Skyhawks lost on Saturday at UNC Ashville 92-71 despite 21 points from Parker Stewart, 20 from Craig Randall II and 10 from Derek Hawthorne Jr.
UT Martin has lost five of its past six games, with just a 76-73 win over Boston University keeping things from being worse. Stewart is averaging a team-high 17.1 points per game, with Quintin Dove (16.8 ppg), Hawthorne (13.8 ppg) and Randall (12.9 ppg) also in double figures.
For the first time since 2015, the Skyhawks placed two representatives on the preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference team as seniors Dove and Randall each made the 11-man list.
Despite the tough stretch, the Skyhawks are sticking to their work ethic and trying to grow as they get ready for the OVC schedule.
“Everybody’s on one accord,” UT Martin coach Anthony Stewart said. “What I like about this team is they are extremely receptive to learning and wanting to learn, and always wanting to get better and to do the extra things necessary for us to reach our goal.”
The Skyhawks will travel approximately 14,491 miles to complete their regular-season schedule.
“We don’t really worry about that — we just worry about what we can control, we try to put 100 percent focus and energy towards the things that we can control,” Stewart said. “You know we just go about our business and try to win each and every opportunity we have to step on the basketball court.”
–Field Level Media