By Ben Everett | Sports Editor
Baylor men’s basketball closes out its four-game home stand with a matchup against Nicholls State at 11 a.m. Friday at the Ferrell Center.
The Bears (2-1) have won back-to-back games after dropping their season-opener 72-69 to Texas Southern. Despite posting two wins in the past two weeks, Baylor has played inconsistently. The Bears played Southern and Prairie View A&M close before pulling away in the second half for the win. Junior forward Freddie Gillespie said most of the team is still getting used to playing high-level opponents on a nightly basis.
“I think for our new guys, the issue is that a lot of them were really good in high school or [junior college] and it didn’t really matter who they were playing against. They could just go out there and beat them because they were so athletic or had good instincts,” Gillespie said. “I think now it’s the realization that [no opponent] sucks. Everybody can play basketball. You have to know your opponent and understand the mental side of it.”
The Bears have been without senior guard Makai Mason and sophomore forward Mario Kegler for the first three games. Mason is dealing with an ankle injury while Kegler was suspended for the team’s first six games due to a violation of team rules. Mason is a game-time decision for Friday’s contest. Senior guard King McClure said playing without two of the team’s best players has been a challenge, but they have seen others step up in their place.
“Whenever you’re missing two potential starters, it definitely hurts,” McClure said. “Especially two players that are as good as those two. I think this is really good for the new guys. It gives them a chance to play in tough games.”
One of those players is freshman guard Jared Butler. Butler started in his collegiate debut, but only scored two points. In the win over Prairie View A&M, Butler notched a career-high 22 points on 7-for-10 shooting, including 3-for-5 on three-pointers. Baylor head coach Scott Drew said Butler has caught on quickly.
“He’s a much different player than he was the first game,” Drew said. “He’s much better than he was in our scrimmages. He’s getting more comfortable and more relaxed out there. At the same time, defensively he’s picked up things pretty quick which has been helpful.”
Against the Panthers, the Bears were faced with full-court pressure defense. Baylor managed to break the pressure to pull away in the final 10 minutes. Drew said Nicholls State will apply that same defensive technique, so the Bears will be ready.
“As far as offensive execution and handling pressure, we got better as the game went on,” Drew said. “That’s going to be important because Nicholls likes to press as well. They’ll press after dead balls. They’ll press after made buckets. They gave Louisville some problems in their first game.”
After three games, the Bears are led in scoring by junior guard Devonte Bandoo, who has put up an average of 17 points per game on 47 percent shooting from three-point range. Sophomore forward Tristan Clark is putting up 15 points per game on 86 percent shooting and also has nine blocks to lead the team.
The Colonels (2-2) are led by senior guard Jeremiah Jefferson, who played high school basketball with McClure. Jefferson is putting up 21.5 points per game through the team’s first four games.
The game will serve as “I’m Going To College Day” as 5,000 tickets were given to local elementary and middle school students. Gillespie said the students will provide extra fan support since the game is early in the day.
“Last year when they came it was a really cool atmosphere,” Gillespie said. “Last year … I didn’t expect it. I didn’t know it was going to happen, but it was cool because they don’t stop screaming. They’re about the best fans you can come by.”
Following the tilt against Nicholls State, the Bears will take a week off before facing Ole Miss at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 23 in Niceville, Fla.