Seven years after the murder of Patrick Dennehy and its subsequent cover-up scandal rocked the Baylor program, the third-seeded Bears have crashed the Elite Eight round, making easy work of the Gaels in the South Region semifinals.
The Bears, playing virtually in their own backyard and with the overwhelming majority of fans, stormed out to a huge early lead against No. 10 SMC and never looked back en route to a 72-49 win, the school's first ever in the Sweet 16.
"It was like a home game," said Baylor forward Ekpe Udoh. "I mean, the whole lower bowl seemed like it was all Baylor fans.
"If we can just keep this up. ... They don't know it, but we feed off their energy."
The West Coast Conference champion Gaels had been one of the darlings of the tournament after toppling No. 2-seed Villanova. Of course, that was before they came upon the speed and athleticism of Baylor.
The Bears guards LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter blistered SMC on the perimeter where Baylor went 8 of 17 from 3-point range.
Dunn led the way for Baylor, scoring 15 of his 23 points in the first half to lead the Bears into halftime ahead, 46-17. Dunn seemed unconcerned by the openness of the Reliant Arena Dome. He connected on 8 of 14 from the field, which included 4-of-17 shooting from 3-point range.
"I have never played in a stadium this big," said Dunn, who had three assists and two steals in the game. "But in shootarounds, I made sure I got up a lot of shots and just tried to get into a good rhythm and feel for it.
"Tonight I think I just came out and did a good job of taking the shots that were there for me and taking the responsibility of knocking them down."
Carter also scored in double figures with 14 points along with Quincy Acy, who scored 10 points off the bench.
The Bears, who led by as many as 35 points in the second half, will be credited with having a huge offensive game after struggling in tournament wins against Sam Houston State and Old Dominion after shooting 46 percent from the field Friday, but it was their defense and rebounding that made the biggest difference.
The Gaels came in shooting 49 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range, but they managed just 35 percent percent from the floor, including 27 percent beyond the arc in this one. SMC center Omar Samhan, who had a had a magical run through the first two games of the tournament, averaging over 30 points, was limited to 15 on 7-of-17 shooting inside against the Bears lengthy 2-3 zone.
Baylor, with a frontline that measures 7-feet, 6-11 and 6-10, made it hard on Samhan to get good looks around the basket while Dunn and Carter applied pressure from the top of the zone to force SMC into 10 turnovers.
"It was just one of those days we couldn't get going," said SMC guard Jordan Page. "Offensively we couldn't get going. Baylor was hitting everything. I think they'll go pretty far."
Baylor awaits the winner of Friday night's late game between No. 1 Duke and No. 4 Purdue in Sunday's Elite Eight round. It's Baylor's first NCAA tournament quarterfinals appearance since 1950 when they advanced to the Final Four round of the eight-team tournament for the second time in three seasons.
Game Ball Goes To...
Baylor's Dunn came out on fire in the first half, scoring 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field as the Bears took a commanding 46-17 lead into halftime. Thanks to Dunn's start, the Bears were never challenged. Dunn finished with a game-high 23 points.
Heart Goes Out To...
Saint Mary's center Samhan put on a heck of a show to get the Gaels to the Sweet 16, but he wasn't able to deliver against the Bears' lengthy 2-3 zone. Samhan was 1 for 8 around the basket with Baylor's Udoh, Josh Lomers and Acy making it hard for him to get good looks at the basket.
As much as Baylor's offense was credited with an incredible first half, it was really the play of the Bears' defense that created the offensive explosion. They held Saint Mary's to 23 percent shooting from the field, including 17 percent shooting from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Gaels came in shooting 41 percent from 3-point range. The Bears also forced SMC into five turnovers in the first half which led fast-break points.
Where To From Here
The Bears head to Sunday's Elite Eight round for the first time in the modern era of the NCAA tournament. The last time they were in the quarterfinals was 1950, when the field was eight teams. Baylor has played in two Final Fours in 1948 and 1950 but has not won a national title.
"Tonight we just have to give credit to our players, they really came out, were focused, energized and defended extremely well and made lots of shots early on. So I think it was more what our players did, and again, I think it was because of respect."
-- Baylor coach Scott Drew on his team's effort against Saint Mary's College.