A strong fourth quarter offensively and a couple of defensive tweaks helped Baylor beat McCallie 48-35 and repeat as the Times Free Press Best of Preps Tournament champion Saturday night at Chattanooga State.
The Red Raiders trailed by two entering the final period but in four minutes completely turned the game around as Eli Sparkman hit a pair of 3-pointers to ignite a 13-1 run. Baylor coach Mark Price said earlier defensive changes were the ultimate difference, though.
"We played way better defensively in the second half," Price said. "The score was low in the first half, but our defense wasn't very good. They just missed a lot of shots. We did accept the challenge in the second half, which was to guard with more purpose, and we changed a couple of things we did with ball screens.
"That's a credit to the guys that we can challenge them and we can make a change and they can execute in the middle of the game."
Sparkman was the spark plug for the Red Raiders (8-2) with 24 points, including six 3s. He hit a pair of long-range jumpers in the opening two minutes of the final quarter that keyed Baylor's big run. Post Nick Kurtz, the tournament's MVP, added 16 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
He had three points during the game-changing spurt, as did Gehrig Ebel.
"Eli had a great tournament. Nick Kurtz gets a lot of credit for our team, but Eli has really come along and that MVP award could have gone to either one of them," Price said. "But I will give Nick a lot of credit because they are big and physical inside, and he accepted that challenge."
Part of Baylor's defensive strategy was aimed at keeping McCallie point guard Eric Rivers out of the lane. After scoring 13 points through three quarters, Rivers was held scoreless in the fourth and the Blue Tornado (6-8) were denied a rivalry win.
"We changed our gap coverage a bit and made it more difficult for him," Price said. "He's a great player, and they do a lot of things to get him in the lane. The first thing we did was to stop their transition push a bit and got the game into more of a half-court game."