INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - After MaCio Teague and the Baylor Bears got comfortable in the spacious confines of Lucas Oil Stadium, they looked like a team that could be playing there for bigger stakes in a few weeks.
Teague scored 22 points and the top-seeded Bears shook off a slow-as-molasses start Friday to roll to a 79-55 victory over No. 16 Hartford in the NCAA Tournament.
Baylor (23-2) opened its March Madness run at the same stadium the Final Four will take place in during the first week of April. All this year's tournament games are being played in quarter-filled venues in Indiana because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Bears will face ninth-seeded Wisconsin on Sunday in the South Region's second round.
In front of a crowd of around 6,000 filling the south end of the home of the Indianapolis Colts, the Hawks (15-9) looked like they belonged for a solid stretch to start the game. They D'd up on Baylor's nation-leading 3-point shooters, grabbed most of the 50-50 balls and even celebrated a power dunk from 6-foot-9 Hunter Marks to start a mini 4-0 run that gave them a one-point lead at the 8-minute timeout.
And that was that.
Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua had two slams of his own sandwiched around a 3 from Adam Flagler to give Baylor a six-point lead. Baylor ran away from there, building the advantage to 29 over a routine second half.
"I thought the nerves kind of calmed down," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "Jon had that dunk, guys started to relax and we felt more comfortable."
The win helped answer two big questions for the Bears.
First, were they over the stagnation that set in after a three-week break induced by COVID-19 in February? They went 4-2 over that stretch after winning their first 18. Answer: "I felt like we got in a rhythm, and once we got in a rhythm, we stayed there," Teague said.
And then, the perennial question about whether they could find their shooting touch in a football stadium, which, even when split in half by a curtain due to COVID-19 protocols, offers a far more vast background than a regular arena. Answer there: "People tell you it’s a different feeling and you get it in your mind that it’s not a shooter’s gym," Teague said. "But I feel like any gym is a shooter’s gym and you just try to lock in and make shots."
The team that shot 41.8% from 3 over the season made 33% in the first round. Their best shooter, Jared Butler, made only 1 of 8 from long range and finished with 13 points. But Teague went 4 for 8 from 3, Davion Mitchell scored 12 points and the Bears did what 1s do to 16s — slowly overpowered them with waves of talent, shooting and defense. They forced 24 turnovers and held the Hawks to 24 percent from the floor.
"They’re probably one of the best two teams in the country, them or Gonzaga," Hartford coach John Gallagher said.
Let the record state that Hartford's D.J. Mitchell played in the NCAA Tournament. For a grand total of 16 seconds. The starting guard took a nasty tumble on the game's first play, after Baylor's Mark Vital ran into him as Mitchell was shooting a 3. Mitchell limped off and trainers checked his left ankle. He watched the rest of the first half from the floor adjacent to Hartford's bench, and didn't return to the game.
Some of the loudest reaction came while fans were watching the big screen, as Oral Roberts, the team coached by former Baylor assistant Paul Mills, closed in on its upset over No. 2 seed Ohio State. But the timeout in the game happening in front of them ended and the video switched over to live action, eliciting boos from throughout the cavernous stadium. Another timeout moments later allowed the fans to watch the end. "I think I was maybe the only one on our team not watching that," Drew said.