Men’s basketball: Bryant drops 24 to lead Spartans

WACO, Texas (WAVY) (AP) – No. 5 Baylor used a strong second half to push past Norfolk State 87-70 at the Ferrell Center Friday in the first of a two-games against top 10 teams.

Joe Bryant Jr. had 24 points and six rebounds to lead the Spartans in a rematch of last season’s first round NCAA tournament game, as he made 4-of-9 3-point attempts. Christian Ings added 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the field while adding four assists and two steals, while Kris Bankston added 10 points.

“They did a good job getting him open looks,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said of Bryant. “That’s a veteran team that knows who their scorer score is, but is patient enough to actually give him shots.”

Two-time defending Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Norfolk State (2-1) shot 50% from the field (24-for-48) and hit 6 of 17 3-point attempts, while Baylor (2-0) shot 49.1% from the field and scored 23 points off of turnovers to the Spartans’ 11.

The Bears overwhelmed Norfolk State 85-49 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last March in Fort Worth, about 100 miles from the Baylor campus. Baylor’s largest lead this time was 21 points.

“After playing them last year, we basically returned the whole team that we have, we kind of knew what to expect,” Spartans coach Robert Jones said. “I think last year might have been a shellshock a little bit, but this year was no shellshock at all.”

Bears’ freshman Keyonte George had a team-high 23 points and seven assists, making six 3-pointers.

“My shot was falling, and I was doing every little thing I could do,” said George, who was 8-of-13 shooting overall. “Came out with the win, that’s the most important thing.”

Transfer guard Jalen Bridges added 20 points for the Bears (2-0). Adam Flagler, their leading scorer last season, had 18 points and five assists.

Norfolk State had its only lead at 7-6 when Bryant made two free throws just more than three minutes into the game. George then scored the first seven points in a 10-0 run for the Bears.

George had a 3-pointer and a four-point play in a 27-second span. He was fouled in front of the Spartans bench when making the second of those 3s, and made the free throw.

Baylor’s biggest lead before halftime was 30-15 when George made a free throw after Ings was called for a flopping technical foul. A 3-pointer by Ings in the final minute cut Baylor’s lead to 39-34, but Flagler answered with a 3.

However, Baylor was able to extend its lead in the second half, using an 8-0 run to lead by 17, and while the Spartans were able to cut the lead to 12 with less than eight minutes to play, they were not able to get any closer.

Baylor made 39.5% of its 3-pointers (15 of 38), even with LJ Cryer going 2 of 12 from long range. Those were the most 3-pointers attempted by the Bears since 39 against Alcorn State on November 23, 2002, the season before Drew became their coach.

Norfolk State faces its second-straight top-10 opponent Monday when it plays at No. 8 UCLA.

TURNING POINT

After Flagler’s 3 to end the first half, he hit another one to start Baylor’s scoring in the second half. That ignited an 11-2 run that pushed the Bears ahead 53-36 with 16 1/2 minutes left. The Spartans never got closer than 12 points after that.

BIG PICTURE

Norfolk St.: The Spartans have 12 players overall back from last season’s team, and they have a loaded early schedule. They have three road games against top 10 teams in Noember. Baylor, No. 8 UCLA and third-ranked Houston.