After three weeks of high-intensity, single-elimination basketball games played by the best collegiate athletes in the world, the NCAA Men’s Tournament, or March Madness, finally concluded with the long-awaited championship Monday night. Featuring the undoubtedly top two teams in the country, the undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs and the 27-2 Baylor Bears, the game was perhaps the most highly awaited college basketball game in years.
After last season’s canceled tournament, in which Baylor and Gonzaga were also favorites to win, and the canceled December matchup due to Baylor’s COVID-19 outbreak, the anticipation for this game was at an all-time high.
The Baylor Bears, in their first title game since 1948, seventy-three years ago, did not disappoint, winning the title in a 86-70 clash.
Gonzaga, with the opportunity to cap off a perfect season, or an undefeated record, fell short, joining 2014-15 Kentucky (38-1) and 2013-14 Wichita State (35-1) as recent teams who failed to finish off an undefeated year.
The Bears were ready to play from the get go. Hot off a blow-out win over Houston in the Final Four, Baylor jumped out to an early 35-16 lead, while Gonzaga struggled to get going. A late run to close the half by the Bulldogs cut the deficit to just 10, at 47-37 at the break.
Any hope of a comeback was short-lived, as Baylor soon started running away with it once the second half was underway.
Coming into the game, the major point of interest was the positional battle between the incredible backcourts of the two teams. Gonzaga was led by superstar freshman Suggs, and senior phenom Corey Kispert, with stud Florida transfer Andrew Nembhard and freshman Joel Ajayi providing incredible depth. Baylor, however, had an equally talented backcourt, with 2020 All-Americans Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler, and then the stellar reserves MaCio Teague and Matthew Mayer.
The battle of the backcourts mostly lived up the expectations, with Butler pouring in a tournament high with 22 points and seven assists en route to being named Most Outstanding Player. Mitchell and Teague pitched in 15 and 19 respectively, while Suggs put in his own team-high with 22 points despite battling foul trouble early. Kispert had 12 of his own, while Nembhard and Ajayi were held in check, tallying up 9 and 8.
Another big question coming into the game was determining who on the Baylor roster can match up with Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, the most talented big man in the country who is coming off a hot stretch of games in the tournament, averaging an incredible 25 points per game across his last four. Baylor has the bigs to throw at him, with Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Flo Thamba, and Mark Vital leading the charge.
This, as suspected, proved to be one of the most critical parts of the game. Gonzaga’s usual high-powered offense struggled to get going early, and it’s fair to point at Timme’s lack of first-half touches and relatively limited impact on the game had an effect on that. Timme still had 12 points but battled fouls and a rotation of Baylor defenders that put more pressure on the rest of Gonzaga’s stars.
The win marked the first national title for Baylor head coach Scott Drew, who is in his 18th year coaching at the school. Drew has led the team to remarkable success over the past eighteen years, but Monday’s title marks the first championship game appearance or Final Four appearance in his tenure there.
“Since 2008, we’ve won 18 or more,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said on Saturday in an interview with the New York Times. “And us and Kansas are the only two Power Fives to do that. We’ve been consistently good. We just haven’t been able to get to a Final Four or national championship.”
For Baylor, their domination on the offensive glass and red-hot three point shooting (10-23) paved the way for their title win. Gonzaga fell behind early and struggled to make the shots (5/17 from three) to keep up. The Bears’ star players and role players alike all showed up in a big way carried their team to a massive win.
Congrats, Gonzaga Bulldogs on an incredible season, and congrats to the Baylor Bears, our new Division I Men’s Basketball national champions.
Media by Isaiah Atkins.