INDIANAPOLIS -- The red glare coming off the scorer's table couldn't match the one coming from Davion Mitchell's eyes minutes before Baylor throttled Gonzaga and ended the Bulldogs' undefeated dream season.
Baylor had just gone through its team introductions. Now it was time for the top-seeded, top-ranked, 31-0 Zags to be introduced. While most of his other teammates moved in place or walked around their teammates, Mitchell stood still. In the dark. Arms crossed. Gonzaga-red from the videoboard on the scorer's table lighting up his face as he eyed the prey.
Gonzaga had no idea what was coming.
Less than five minutes later, it sure as hell did. Mitchell -- who hit the game's first shot and set the tone for a definitive roasting that would come over the next two hours -- and his teammates stepped onto the floor as though they were fired out of a cannon. Blink and it's 11-1, Bears. Turn your head and now it's 16-4. Baylor gave Mark Few's team its largest deficit of the season less than 10 minutes into the night and never looked back.
Gonzaga was shell-shocked.
Baylor's men's basketball team captured its first national championship with an 86-70 razing that amounted to one of the most impressive title-game performances in recent college basketball history.
Final Four hero Jalen Suggs had foul trouble early and was wobbled immediately thanks to Mitchell. Drew Timme had his table overturned multiple times. Most Outstanding Player Jared Butler finished with a game-high 22 points and seven assists, becoming the first player since Carmelo Anthony in 2003 to have 20-and-7 in a title game. Here in Indianapolis, where UNLV's undefeated run expired vs. Duke in the 1991 Final Four and where Kentucky's chase for immortality vanished vs. Wisconsin in 2015, Monday night was Gonzaga's turn to see its perfect season go poof.
Baylor blows out Gonzaga in shocking, dominant fashion. A championship edition of Eye on College Basketball recaps the national championship game.
And there was Scott Drew. Leaping into the arms of his staff. College basketball's happiest coach on his happiest night. When it was over, Drew brought everyone into a huge circle on the court. They kneeled and said a prayer.
The greatest program reinvention in men's college basketball history was complete.
Drew took the Baylor job in 2003 when the program was near disintegration. The job Drew's done at Baylor in the 18 years since -- impressive is an understatement. There was no set of instructions when he got there, because there wasn't even a drawer to put them in. This was not a rebuild; what Baylor could be, in 2003, was a figment of Drew's imagination.
"I don't know if I was the first choice," Drew told CBS Sports last season, shortly after the Bears had climbed to the top and were No. 1 in the country.
But Baylor was his first choice. Just 32 years old then, Drew was doe-eyed but determined. A widely shared video by the Baylor men's basketball Twitter account shows Drew's hope and vision all those yesterdays ago, when he said winning a national championship on his watch was possible.
He probably honestly believed it then, and he probably honestly was the only person on earth who did.
Coming off a scandal that included the murder of a player by one of his teammates and a cover-up by the former coach that included the defaming of the murdered player, Baylor was radioactive. Drew was down to six scholarships his first year. A walk-on's dream -- because they played.
An NCAA investigation from the Dave Bliss era would eventually lead to sanctions that didn't even allow the program to play nonconference games in Drew's third season. The Bears went 4-13. The NCAA's punishment was one-of-a-kind for men's basketball.
Yet within two years of that abridged season Drew had Baylor in the NCAA Tournament, the first of what is now nine appearances.
Smiling the whole way. Always has. About that, though.
"The guy at Baylor."
A quote that's stuck with me for almost 10 years. It's July 2012 and I'm leaning against the wooden bleachers at the Nike Peach Jam. There are a few coaches holding court and gossiping while half-watching another game larded with four- and five-star prospects.
Who's the biggest cheater in college basketball?
"The guy at Baylor," one of them said.
He pointed, too. Drew was sitting on the other side of the gym, dressed as he almost always is on the recruiting trail: long-sleeve black shirt with big-lettered BAYLOR in neon-green across the chest. The confidence and casual nature of the accusation has always stuck with me. Didn't matter if it was true or not. Drew knew this was how some coaches talked about him then. Had to. Baylor had gone from the trash heap to Big 12 competitor in a short time. Too short of a time for some.
"We're all human," Drew told CBS Sports. "Everybody would rather be complimented than criticized. When you get criticized, no it doesn't feel good. But at the same time, in coaching you're either criticized because you can recruit but can't coach, or you can coach and can't recruit. Over time you hopefully show you can do both."
Drew grew the ire of institutional pillars early in his Baylor career. Bobby Knight went after him, and so did Rick Pitino and Rick Barnes. He was too happy, too peppy. Seemingly: too phony. He was getting players Baylor wasn't supposed to get. This reputation dogged him for a time.
"I think it bothered me a lot more than it bothered him," Bryce Drew, his brother, said.
Ten years ago, Baylor's success landing a few highly rated recruits led to some coaches casually accusing him of cheating because of, among other things, who he tried to hire on his staff. It led to an NCAA investigation that was known but fairly hush-hush. Nothing major ever came of it. But it took Drew years to shed some stigma. He'd never let on that it bothered him, though. At least not publicly.
"We went through a three-year NCAA investigation, and I think that's when people stopped making allegations about us," Drew said. "It's not fun to go through, just so you know."
It got so bad, people connected to recruits would go to Baylor looking for handouts, assuming that was the game. Sometimes $30,000 or $50,000. A car, a job, anything. Drew said none of it ever happened. But he was a case study in how rumormongering can set back, if not ruin, a program. Many people in Drew's position would have scooted out for another job. Drew stayed. Whether or not cheating actually occurred at Baylor under Drew, that can never fully be known. But the NCAA's investigation turned over nothing close to what was whispered. It still didn't stop the slandering behind his back.
I know because I heard it.
"I couldn't control that noise, or what other people might say," Drew said. "I know the truth."
He changed his recruiting approach, but he never changed his outlook. Drew became less interested in landing the best players and instead pivoted toward getting the best players for Baylor. A quiet reinvention took place, and in recent years the school found its formula. Drew and his staff were willing to take anyone from anywhere. And so they did.
Davion Mitchell from Auburn.
MaCio Teague from UNC Asheville.
Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua from UNLV.
A once-chubby kid named Jared who'd go on to put on an all-time performance in the biggest game of Baylor men's basketball.
They'd be the ones to break Gonzaga's heart.
On Monday night Baylor became the third team in men's basketball history to knock off an undefeated team in a national championship game, joining 1961 Cincinnati and 1979 Michigan State. It did so by bringing in an eclectic combination of mature, muscular, mentally focused players who were capable of more than they knew when they got to Baylor.
Drew's optimism never wavered. He never let the noise get to him. And now, Baylor's playing as well as any power-conference program. It's one of only two schools in a major conference in the past 13 years to win at least 18 games every season. The other is Kansas.
Reflecting immediately upon the beatdown Baylor bludgeoned the Bulldogs with Monday night, that 21-day February COVID pause might have been the only thing standing in the way of an undefeated season. The Bears lost two games, both of which came after the team emerged from its quarantine cocoon.
Even though Baylor couldn't go undefeated, knocking off an undefeated in the ultimate game is the next best thing. Who'd have believed it? The 50-year-old in the hat on a ladder, net in hand, who saw this moment in his mind at 32. On Monday night he and his team scaled the mountaintop, and in ending perfection, showed the closest thing to it.
"Hurdle after hurdle after, but he never questioned whether it could be done," his father, Homer, a coaching legend in his own right, told CBS Sports. "The biggest thing of why is because he enjoys working with young people and helping them grow to become good citizens, later in life. So, yes, winning's important, because you have to win to keep your job. The thing I'm most proud of is how he has touched the lives of his players not only this year, but within that struggle to get them up and you can see a lot of these people are alumni who have come back to honor him for that."
Few people expected Scott Drew to make it to 2008 at Baylor. Then 2008 became 2012, and then 2016. But it's 2021 and he's rolling and pushing past many who for years believed he'd never make it to the first Monday night in April.
He's on top of college basketball. Drew might have the biggest smile in the sport now, but he also has the worst grip; the man has seemingly never held a grudge. Monday night could have been about personal redemption and told-you-sos, but that is not Scott Drew. Less than five minutes after winning the title, he made his way over to the press bay parked 20 feet behind the baseline. He took a minute to thank the media for its coverage and belief in his program, in him.
For years, his so-called act irked some. Who could be this happy all the time? But it is no act. This is who he is. Drew never changed, and because of that, his program could. What was once a figment of his imagination is now material reality. Baylor is the best, and Scott Drew will finally be recognized for being a great coach.