By Greg DeVries
The No. 18 Baylor men’s basketball team is set to head to South Carolina to play in the Charleston Classic Thursday-Sunday.
The Bears have won their first two games against Lehigh and Jackson State in pretty convincing fashion.
Lehigh was Baylor’s first victim that fell 99-77. There is a lot of buzz surrounding Lehigh’s team this season.
The Mountain Hawks returned four starters from a team that beat Duke in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
“We had tremendous amounts of respect for Lehigh coming in with 27 wins last year and their top four scorers back,” head coach Scott Drew said.
“We were prepared for a good team and I think our players showed they were ready to play.”
One of their returning starters is senior guard C.J. McCollum.McCollum dropped 36 points and eight rebounds against the Bears, but Baylor’s defense made him work for every point by throwing a combination of senior guard A.J. Walton and sophomore guard Deuce Bello at him.
“Deuce Bello has good length and pretty good lateral quickness,” McCollum said. “Walton is more of a physical guy and presses up against you. They complement the Baylor team well, two different types of defenders, but both very effective.”
The Bears were even more dominant against the Jackson State Tigers.
Baylor won that game 78-47 despite not having freshman center Isaiah Austin and senior center J’mison Morgan.
So far, Baylor has shown little weakness.
One areaofconcern for the Bears has been rebounding.
Opposing teams are averaging 16 offensive rebounds per game against Baylor.
“I still think we have a lot to improve on,” senior guard Pierre Jackson said. “We can be a lot better, but right now we’re playing good. We’re all clicking. We can get better at rebounding, just boxing out the shooter after shooting.”
Offensively, the Bears have been excellent from most positions.
The duo of junior forward Cory Jefferson and Austin is averaging 42 points per game.
Jefferson is also averaging 10 rebounds per contest. Both Jefferson and Austin earned Big 12 weekly honors yesterday.
Austin was named the Big 12 newcomer of the week, and Jefferson was named the Big 12 player of the week.
“Cory is somebody we expect a lot of,” Drew said.
“It’s his turn to lead now and he’s doing it by example. We haven’t given him a lot of rest. He’s been able to sustain his energy level and provide that defensive energy, and on the offensive end he’s been very efficient.”
At the guard positions, Jackson is averaging nearly 20 points per game, and Walton and Bello have both been good defensively.
Junior guard Brady Heslip has started the year just 2-10 from the arc in his first two games, but his presence on the perimeter stretches defenses and opens lanes inside.
Baylor’s bench play has also been solid despite injuries. Freshman forward Taurean Prince has been a pleasant surprise for the Bears.
Despite averaging just 13 minutes per game, Prince is scoring more than 10 points and grabbing six rebounds per game.
“I thought he really came out and played well,” Drew said. “With Isaiah out, we needed someone else to step up, and I think he did a very nice job. And that’s two games in a row I thought he’s played well.”
Freshman forward Rico Gathers recorded his first double-double of the year against Jackson State with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“I thought Rico, with a double-double and six offensive rebounds, felt a lot more comfortable,” Drew said.
“He wasn’t as winded as the first game. That’s great that he was able to feel more comfortable out there. I thought he did a great job running the floor and getting some transition baskets.”
Baylor’s first opponent in the Charleston Classic will be Heslip’s former school, Boston College.
The Golden Eagles are 1-0 on the season after opening with a victory over Florida International 84-70.