For the first six minutes Monday night, it looked as if Baylor might still be suffering from tryptophan in its Christmas turkey.
The Bears slept through the early going against Oral Roberts, as the Golden Eagles scored the game’s first seven points and grabbed seven of the first eight rebounds.
Once Baylor (11-1) emerged from its slumber, however, it turned things quickly.
Cory Jefferson played only five minutes in the first half after picking up two early fouls, but ended up with 17 points and seven rebounds after intermission to lead the ninth-ranked Bears to an 81-55 win at the Ferrell Center.
“When you come back from a break you’re always nervous until you get back in a routine, and the first five or six minutes validated why we’re nervous as coaches,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We couldn’t throw it in the ocean, weren’t really moving and weren’t active, and then we played 35 minutes of very good basketball.”
Jefferson was part of a dominating effort in the paint for the Bears, particularly in the second half.
Isaiah Austin hit for 15 points and blocked four shots, while Rico Gathers impacted the game with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Taurean Prince came off the bench and provided a spark with 14 of his 16 points in the first half and did it efficiently by hitting four of his five shots from the floor and went 6-for-7 from the free-throw line.
Prince scored six straight for Baylor during a 13-2 run that took the Bears from an 11-10 deficit to 23-13 advantage with 6:11 to go in the first half.
“I was just seeing a lot of open spaces in transition, and I was trying to keep attacking because they were fouling a lot,” said Prince, who also added three assists and two steals. “So I just stayed aggressive. I wasn’t really looking for anything in particular, except to get to the rim.”
Baylor went to a zone with a bigger lineup on the floor even with Jefferson on the bench, and its length clearly took the Golden Eagles out of their offensive flow.
They shot 50 percent in the first half, but managed only a 9-for-34 effort in the second half to finish at a 36.2 clip for the game. Oral Roberts struggled the most from 3-point range, where it was only 1-for-13.
Shawn Glover led all scorers with 22 points for Oral Roberts, while Denell Henderson gave the Golden Eagles their biggest frontcourt presence with 16 points and eight rebounds.
“I thought our zone was pretty active and contested some shots,” Drew said. “We did a pretty decent job rebounding. They didn’t make some shots that they probably normally hit, and that makes any defense look better, but I thought we did a good job of making things tougher for Glover in the second half.”
The Bears finally got on the board with 14:11 to go in the first half on a Kenny Chery 3-pointer from the top of the key that seemed to finally take the lid off of the basket. They parlayed that into a pair of Gathers free throws and a Heslip trey on a drive-and-dish from Chery to give Baylor its first lead of the night and cap an 8-0 spurt.
End of drought
“We knew at some point somebody had to score for us,” Drew said. “Coaches are always uptight about everything, but we didn’t like the energy level we had. Unfortunately in basketball, a lot of times if you score, you play better defense. Once we started scoring, we kept them on 13 for a long time.”
The lead went back and forth for a few turns before Baylor finally took its for good with its run later in the first half.
But it wasn’t until the second half that Baylor put it away, and was made possible by shooting 61.3 percent from the floor in the second half. Many of those shots came at close range, highlighted by six dunks from the big guys up front.
Finding open players
Baylor’s guards didn’t score much, but Chery, Ish Wainright and Royce O’Neale combined for 17 assists with only one turnover.
“I thought our guards really did a good job of not forcing shots, but making the extra pass, getting it inside, and those guys capitalized,” Drew said.
Jefferson scored Baylor’s first two points of the second half with a pair of free throws, and he followed that by throwing down dunks on back-to-back possessions, the second a monster one-handed flush off a feed from Gary Franklin that brought the crowd to life.
Frustrating 1st half
“It was definitely frustrating, just the way I got my second foul,” Jefferson said. “I knew I was probably done for the rest of the half, which I was. I wanted to make a statement in the second half and just come out and go after everything.”
Oral Roberts managed to keep its deficit between 12-14, but a 9-0 spurt during which Jefferson stepped out and dropped a 3-pointer made it a 59-38 game and put it away for good.
Baylor will have three days off before returning to action against Savannah State at 7 p.m. Friday at the Ferrell Center in its final nonconference game of the season.