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Baylor Freshmen Continue Growth Against TCU

Baylor
Baylor Men's Basketball | Image by Baylor Men's Basketball/Twitter

Baylor basketball’s inexperience within the Big 12 Conference was a potential concern at the start of the season after losing nine players from last year’s team.

Entering the season, Baylor had just one player on the roster who had played a Big 12 game, meaning its young players would have to grow up quickly. Two stepped up in Monday’s road win over TCU, ending a two-game losing streak and pushing the Bears ahead of the Horned Frogs in the Big 12 standings with room to grow.

“We have a lot of new pieces, and that gives you hope that we still have room to improve and get better,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew told the media postgame. “There’s not a lot of schools playing as many freshmen as we are. … They constantly get better, and they learn when they’re put in different situations. Every game is a teaching experience, and things that you took for granted, you just have to reteach because everybody’s rosters flip so quick. … But if you’ve got a bunch of new guys, you’re constantly going over everything.”

Freshman guard Ja’Kobe Walter and freshman forward Yves Missi each scored 16 points — combining for 25 in the second half as Baylor pulled away after leading by two at halftime. Walter, the team’s leading scorer on the season, has been a consistent playmaker, while Missi has steadily become a consistent double-figure scorer in the post.

The freshmen were not alone in their excellent performances. Jalen Bridges, the lone Big 12 veteran on the roster, led the Bears’ efforts early, scoring 12 of Baylor’s first 17 points on his first four three-point attempts.

“Jalen has really been consistent, but I think in the last couple of games, he’s been more aggressive, and we need that,” Drew said. “He has the most experience. We have four guys that are starting with him that have never played a Big 12 game before, so we need his leadership and him to be assertive, and he was great tonight.”

Point guard RayJ Dennis, a transfer from Toledo, also impacted the game, dishing out nine assists and collecting eight rebounds.

The perceived lack of experience before the season has turned into a good mix of veteran players and promising freshmen, leading the Bears to a top-15 ranking and potentially a top-three regional seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament. Drew credits the success to the bonds the team has been able to form.

“We really have a good group of guys. They support one another,” he explained. “The guys really like one another, and that makes it easier for them to play with the culture of joy … and when they play the right way — moving the ball and sharing it — we’re really good.”

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