By Cody Soto
It wasn’t pretty, and it was a lot more entertaining than the teams’ records showed on paper, but No. 21 Baylor men’s basketball used a record-breaking performance from junior forward Rico Gathers to roll over Huston-Tillotson 81-61 Wednesday night at the Ferrell Center.
The 275-pound player posted a career-high 28 rebounds and 25 points for his 12th double-double of the season. Gathers surpassed the Big 12 record and program record for rebounds in a game; the previous milestones were 24 and 27 respectively.
Junior forward Taurean Prince posted 13 points and six rebounds for the Bears, freshman guard Al Freeman scored 10, and junior forward Deng Deng had eight points in the win.
“I thought this game accomplished what we wanted to do and that was to get a win during conference play,” head coach Scott Drew said. “Coming off of a loss, we wanted to get a different feeling, and people who haven’t played were able to get better.”
The game got off to an interesting start as Shai Fields gave Huston-Tillotson an early 3-0 lead, but Gathers put Baylor’s first six points on the board as the Bears trailed 8-6 in the first quarter. The Bears trailed as many as seven points but were able to stay close with the Rams with help from several bench players, sophomore forward Ish Wainright and Deng. Baylor went into the locker room with a 37-36 halftime lead after Prince beat the buzzer for three points.
“Tonight, I’m going to live in the moment, but tomorrow it’s time to focus on OU,” Gathers said. “In a game like this, a lot of times teams will forget to box out, so I just took advantage of the opportunity. Being able to do something like that tonight is something I can tell my grandkids. I’m really honored to have that record, but my teammates pushed for that. I did it for them tonight.”
Although they led by one at the break, the Bears shot 38.9 percent from the field in the half and were 3-for-13 from beyond the arc. The Rams shot 35.1 percent but an impressive 46.7 percent from three.
The Bears rolled out of their first half slump as they stormed back to push the lead to 48-39 with 16:42 left in the game. Baylor stepped it up on the offensive end as Gathers slammed down the ball for a monstrous basket for a 15-point lead with under 12 minutes to go. Lester Medford nailed a three-pointer quickly after that as Baylor continued to take charge in the second half.
Gathers sealed his name in Baylor history with less than four minutes to go as he got two rebounds and two points for his efforts on the offensive end. Scott Drew emptied the bench as freshman forward T.J. Maston and junior forward John Heard finished off the game on the court, sealing a 20-point win for the Bears in their final non-conference game.
The Bears (14-4, 2-3 Big 12) resume conference play in another Top 25 matchup against No. 19 Oklahoma on Saturday at the Ferrell Center. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. and will be broadcasted live on ESPN2.