With final exams completed, Baylor is looking forward to focusing solely on basketball the next few weeks.
The No. 21 Bears have just three games remaining before opening Big 12 play, including Thursday’s matchup against Texas Southern at 7:35 p.m. at the Ferrell Center.
The Bears (7-2) will host Savannah State on Sunday and Southern on Dec. 20 before playing their Big 12 opener against Texas Tech in Lubbock on Dec. 29.
“I’m excited for this stretch of basketball now and excited to improve the next couple of games before Christmas, hopefully,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “The great thing now is every college player wants to get in the NBA. Now it’s like the NBA because there’s no school, just basketball. So they shouldn’t complain if we have long practices, right?”
After playing with just six scholarship players in Saturday’s 105-82 win over Randall at Fort Hood, point guard Manu Lecomte will return after sitting out with a thumb injury. However, forward Mark Vital is questionable with a hamstring injury and forward Terry Maston is out until January after missing the last three games with a broken right thumb.
“Coach Drew does a great job of putting us in position and getting us prepared when one player goes down,” said Baylor guard King McClure, who scored 23 points against Randall. “We’ve got to step up. Everybody has that mentality that you never know when your number is truly going to be called.”
Cleared from a medical issue, redshirt freshman guard Tyson Jolly showed signs of his ability in a 24-minute stint off the bench against Randall. In just his second game, Jolly didn’t score but dished out a game-high 10 assists and grabbed eight rebounds.
“Tyson offensively is still a little jittery, he says,” Drew said. “Defensively he’s done a great job, brings a lot of energy and can really rebound. He’s athletic and did a great job passing the ball the last game. Eventually his shot will start dropping for him. He’s somebody who is very similar to Mark Vital. When they get in the game, right away the intensity level picks up because they play with such great motors.”
Drew also hopes to continue to get strong production from forward Nuni Omot, who nailed six of eight 3-pointers and scored a game-high 30 points against Randall. Center Jo Lual-Acuil collected 19 points and 16 rebounds while forward Tristan Clark finished with 16 points and 11 boards.
“The biggest thing is getting better from game to game,” Lual-Acuil said. “Our defense wasn’t great against Randall, so going into this game we have to be locked in defensively and definitely have to leave with a better feeling. It was a win but we didn’t play great. So the next few games we want to make sure we really put our foot down and dominate these teams and go into the Christmas break feeling good.”
The Bears will face a Texas Southern team that’s 0-9, but have played a grueling schedule that includes losses to No. 12 Gonzaga, No. 13 Kansas, and several other major colleges including Washington State, Ohio State, Syracuse, Clemson and Oregon.
Guard Trae Jefferson leads the Tigers with a 22-point scoring average and 3.8 assists while guard Donte Clark is averaging 17.3 points and 6.1 rebounds. Center Trayvon Reed is averaging 10.1 points and a team-high 9.7 rebounds.
“Texas Southern has played a who’s who in college basketball, so they try to play as many Top 25 opponents as possible,” Drew said. “That’s why they’ve gone to the (NCAA) tournament the last three or four years in a row is because when they get into conference they don’t usually lose many.”
The upcoming days will be special for Lual-Acuil, a native of Sudan who will graduate Saturday.
“It’s pretty exciting because I haven’t seen my parents in four years or something like that,” Lual-Acuil said. “I’m looking forward to it. It hadn’t really hit me yet.”