Sports

Baylor defeats MSU to win B4A Championship

The Baylor University Bears appeared to be the deepest and most talented team all tournament long, and that stayed true to form as they pulled away from the Michigan State University (MSU) Spartans in the championship game of the 10th Battle 4 Atlantis (B4A) Men’s Basketball Tournament inside the Imperial Arena at Atlantis, Paradise Island, on Friday.

After leading by just two points at the half, 38-36, the defending national champions Bears opened the second half on a 17-6 scoring run to take their first double-digit lead of the game, and they never looked back. The Spartans never got to within single digits again and the Bears went on to cruise to the 75-58 win, becoming just the second team in tournament history behind the Villanova Wildcats to secure two tournament championships. The Bears won in 2016 as well.

For the Spartans, it was the second time in tournament history, they fell to the Bears.

“They handled business – these guards do a great job of leading the team. We have a lot of selfless guys. I couldn’t be more pleased and proud of them,” said Baylor Head Coach Scott Drew. “Defensively, we really imposed our will – particularly in the second half and we got out in transition because of it. They are who we thought they were; you have to have great toughness to win three games in three days. They were mature the whole time. To win three games in three days against NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Tournament caliber teams says a lot about our readiness for this event.”

The Bears, listed number six in the Associated Press Rankings, took down the Arizona State Sun Devils in the opening round of the tournament on Wednesday, 75-63, outlasted the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Rams in the semifinals on Thursday, 69-61, and proved to be too much for the Spartans on Friday. They remained unbeaten at 7-0 on the season while the Spartans dropped to a 5-2 win/loss record.

The Bears shot 49.2 percent from the floor (30-for-61) compared to 45.7 percent for the Spartans (21-for-46) and were 7-for-26 from three-point range compared to 4-for-15 for the Spartans. The Spartans missed all seven of their three-point attempts in the second half. The Bears were able to get up 15 more shot attempts, primarily from forcing 19 turnovers. On their side of the ball offensively, they committed just 10 turnovers.

“That is a good basketball team; they deserve all of the credit,” said Spartans’ Head Coach Tom Izzo. “This is going to be great for us in the long run; I’m just disappointed that we didn’t really compete in the second half. Baylor is really heads and shoulders better than most of the teams in the tournament so that’s who should win, and they did. We are making some progress. We are going to leave here feeling good about a lot of things, but I haven’t felt good about the turnovers since the season started. We’re going to have to look at making some adjustments there and we will.” 

The Spartans once led 36-31, but from there, it was all Baylor. They scored seven in a row to close the first half ahead 38-36, and then started the second half on that 17-6 run to open a double-digit lead.

Senior transfer guard James Akinjo led the Bears with 15 points and five assists and carted off the Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award. Freshman swingman Kendall Brown, a McDonald’s All-American, added a dozen points and junior guard Adam Flagler contributed 11 points, five assists and four rebounds. Junior forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua came off the bench to score 10 points for the Bears, and three other players score eight points.

Senior forward Gabe Brown paced the Spartans with 13 points, five rebounds and two assists. “Overall, we didn’t come out to play as a team in the second half – we have to do better than that. We need to be more aggressive and bring back Michigan State basketball,” said Brown. Freshman guard Jaden Akins was the Spartans only other player in double figures. He came off the bench to score 12 points.

“To win a championship, you have to have a team, you have to have a bench. We have depth and we have a rotation, and players started to trust each other,” said Drew. “I think all of our guys did a great job in trusting each other, and we have really humble leaders. Each and every game we have had guys step up and make plays. Battle 4 Atlantis is a first-class operation. The postgame celebration, I really wanted these guys to be a part of that, so I’m happy they were able to experience that.”

All of the Bears players danced to the Junkanoo music in the background afterwards, celebrating the impressive win. MVP Akinjo said it’s a great feeling. About their second-half run, he said they just went to their patented defense and let their offense feed off that.

“Once we were able to establish ourselves defensively and get our in transition, we knew that we would be hard to guard. We have some weapons, we have shooters and we have finishers, so we just had to focus on finishing plays. Most of the things we do on offense is predicated on our defense. So, by forcing turnovers, that gave us an opportunity to play basketball the way we wanted to and have fun. Our defense really energized our offense and we have confidence in each other,” said Akinjo. His running mate Flagler said they were able to play the way they wanted to play in the second half.

“We knew how we wanted to play out there, so once we were able to assert ourselves we knew that we could get things going and control the game,” he said.

Spartans’ Head Coach Izzo said they had a respectable performance in the tournament but didn’t finish strong.

“I thought we played two and a half games of really good basketball and then we fell apart,” he said. “The best team definitely won the tournament. They were tough mentally and physically and for us, it looked like we just ran out of gas. They were pretty tough defensively and it was hard for us to break that.”

At the end of the day, a balanced lineup earned Baylor yet another lopsided win to start the season, and they celebrated an impressive run through the 2021 B4A Tournament. They have won all but one of their games this season by double digits.

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Sheldon Longley

Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.

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