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Mar 23, 2024 12:14 pm

Confident Clemson braces for Baylor’s sizzling shooters

baylor bridges

MEMPHIS — Baylor gave Colgate the assortment pack Friday.

The Bears hit 16 3-pointers, canned 63 percent of their 2-point shots and also controlled the boards en route to an emphatic 92-67 first-round win in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament.

Things figure to get tougher now for third-seeded Baylor, starting Sunday at FedEx Forum in a second-round clash with sixth-seeded Clemson.

“Expect the unexpected,” Bears coach Scott Drew said. “That’s March Madness. I love it when you can’t get past the first two days and there’s no perfect brackets left.”

For Baylor (24-10) to remain in the bracket, it will have to figure out a way to do what New Mexico couldn’t. Clemson (22-11) shut off the lane against a team reliant on post scoring and guard penetration, forcing the Lobos to jack up 3-pointers.

New Mexico hit just 3 of 23 3-pointers and the Tigers cruised to a 77-56 win. But they probably will have to adjust their defense to an extent for this one. Baylor simply shoots too well from distance, ranking fifth in Division I during the regular season at 39.8 percent.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell knows adjustments will be necessary.

“Smart, tough, together teams win,” Brownell said. “The teams that are still in this tournament, top 32 teams in the country, know how to play. They have good players. They have great coaches. Scott Drew is an incredible coach, won the national championship and has a very talented team. So we’ll have to be on the top of our game to win.”

For that to happen, the Tigers could use another game like the one Chase Hunter authored Friday. Hunter scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting while adding six assists. It was quite a bounce-back effort from a 76-55 loss to Boston College in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament on March 13, when Hunter missed all 10 of his shots and tallied just two points.

“I felt like I let my team down. I let the whole university down, to be honest,” Hunter said. “I wanted to make sure I impacted this team whether it was on defense, offense, making plays for my teammates.”

On the other sideline, the Bears had plenty of guys making plays. Jalen Bridges racked up a game-high 23 points on just 14 shot attempts, going 5 of 8 from the 3-point line, and freshman Ja’Kobe Walter displayed his NBA-level scoring ability with 19.

But the key might have been point guard RayJ Dennis, who contributed 10 points and nine of his team’s 17 assists. Dennis consistently whipped defenders off the dribble and was able to find open teammates all day.

“We got great shooters and great scorers everywhere,” he said. “So it just makes my job easier. Sometimes, I don’t even have to dribble around. I just pass it and JB (Bridges) will shoot it and knock it down.”

The winner advances to a Sweet 16 game on Thursday in Los Angeles against either Dayton or Arizona.

–Bucky Dent, Field Level Media

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