MBB ready to grow in Vegas tournament

Freshman guard Al Freeman dribbles up the floor against a McNeese State defense during Baylor’s season-opening 80-39 win on Nov. 14. Skye Duncan | Lariat Photographer
Freshman guard Al Freeman dribbles up the floor against a McNeese State defense during Baylor’s season-opening 80-39 win on Nov. 14.
Skye Duncan | Lariat Photographer
By Cody Soto
Sports Writer

After taking an early season road win at South Carolina on Tuesday, Baylor men’s basketball will play in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational and will face four opponents in the next week.

The Bears (2-0) begin the weekend with a home match against Prairie View A&M today at the Ferrell Center. Baylor took its most recent win against South Carolina on Tuesday as the team rallied for a 69-65 road victory.

“It’s easier to learn from a win than a loss,” head coach Scott Drew said. “Going into the game, I knew we were going to be a better team afterwards whether we won or lost.”

Senior guard Kenny Chery averages 14.5 points in two games, followed by freshman Johnathan Motley with 13.5. Forwards Royce O’Neale and Rico Gathers control the boards for Baylor as the duo averages 7.0 and 6.5 rebounds per contest. However, with only two contests underway, the non-conference season can still go in either direction.

Chery stepped up and scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half, hoisting the team over the Gamecocks with two clutch free throws at the end of the game. Motley has already shown a lot of potential through two contests for Baylor.

“[Johnathan Motley] has done a good job in games, and that’s a carry over from practice,” Drew said. “Royce and Kenny have done a great job giving him confidence and telling him exactly what we need from him and making sure he’s staying focused and getting better every day.”

Prairie View A&M is winless on the season so far, dropping its first three games. The Panthers (0-3) lost a close 68-64 matchup against Rice on Wednesday. John Brisco scored 20 points in 22 minutes to lead the Panthers, followed by Montrael Scott with 18. Karim York recorded nine rebounds but fell short in the final seconds to the Owls.

“Prairie View has done a good job of working the ball and taking high percentage shots,” Drew said. “They have a lot of seniors, and they don’t get rattled. They put themselves in a position to win on the road.”

After facing Prairie View A&M on Friday, Baylor will host Stephen F. Austin on Monday. The Lumberjacks (1-1) will play their first road match in Cincinnatti, Ohio today at 7 p.m. Prior to that, Stephen F. Austin lost a 79-77-overtime heartbreaker to Northern Iowa on Tuesday in William R. Johnson Coliseum. The Lumberjacks only shot 33.3 percent from the field in overtime and went 1-for-5 from the three-point line. Demetrious Floyd and Thomas Walkup had 20 points and added 13 rebounds in the loss. Baylor and Stephen F. Austin tip off at 7 p.m. Monday night.

Baylor will then travel to the tournament site in Las Vegas, Nev. to face Memphis on Thanksgiving Day. The Tigers (0-1) dropped their season opener to No. 11 Wichita State 71-56 on Tuesday behind a 40.8 percent shooting average and only went 2-for-9 from beyond the arc. In the loss, Nick King led Memphis with 16 points and seven rebounds. Three other players contributed double-digit points as well. Baylor and Memphis play at an 11 p.m. game time.

After the late night shootout, the Bears play Illinois the following day in Las Vegas. The Illini (2-0) dominated their way to a 114-56 win over Coppin State at home on Sunday. Leron Black and Ahmad Starks took control of the offensive drive and had 18 points in the win. Aaron Cosby shot 5-for-7 from the field and scored 17 points for Illinois. The Illini shot 55.4 percent and limited Coppin State to a 29.6 shooting effort. The Bears and Illini tip off at 7 p.m.

Baylor will play its final tournament game against Indiana State next Friday. The Sycamores (1-1) recently fell 69-56 to St. Louis at home Tuesday night. In their first two games, the team averages 67.5 points per contest and allows their opponent the same scoring margin. Devonte Brown and Khristian Smith share the leading scorer position with each player posting 17.5 and 17 points per game respectively. The Bears and Sycamores face off at 9:30 p.m.

The offense is working its way with the new lineup, and Motley is becoming a big factor in the Bears’ success.

“It’s my teammates that are helping me build confidence to score for this team,” Motley said. “I’m going out there and doing what I’m blessed to do. I’m going to do my job and help us win.”

Junior guard Lester Medford has only played two games in a Baylor uniform, and the win over South Carolina is giving the team confidence heading into the tournament.

“It is giving us a confidence boost to help us keep our chemistry growing and working with the new guys and the seniors we have,” Medford said. “It gives us a good feel.”

Baylor begins tournament play tonight against Prairie View A&M at the Ferrell Center. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.