Baylor coach Scott Drew doesn’t have to worry about disgruntled players complaining about their minutes on the court.
With only eight scholarship players available, everybody plays a great deal.
In Friday’s season opener, the Bears looked like they had been playing together all their lives as they shot a school-record 66.1 percent from the field and 70.6 percent from 3-point range in a 107-66 thrashing of Central Arkansas before 7,791 fans at the Ferrell Center.
Coming off last year’s Sweet 16 appearance, everybody wondered how the No. 24 Bears were going to replace second-team All-America forward Johnathan Motley, who signed with the Dallas Mavericks.
Center Jo Lual-Acuil said it would take a team effort, and that’s exactly what the Bears got against Central Arkansas.
Six Baylor players scored in double figures as Manu Lecomte led the way with 22 points and Lual-Acuil 17. Nuni Omot, Tristan Clark and King McClure scored 15 apeice while Terry Maston contributed 14. All eight scholarship players logged at least 20 minutes.
“We have a lot of weapons that can make up for J-Mot’s scoring from last year,” Lecomte said. “Inside our guys can’t be stopped, so we’ve got to keep feeding them. Outside we’ve got great shooters, guys who can get in the lane.”
Lecomte was on fire from 3-point range as he hit six of eight, and the Bears nailed 12 of 17 treys overall. Baylor was also near perfect from the free throw line by hitting 17 of 20.
“Coaches are nervous about everything, so first game you never know what it’s going to be like,” Drew said. “If you could get 85 percent from the free throw line and 66 percent from the field and 71 from 3, you probably want to end the season right there. We really executed well offensively, very unselfish.”
Particularly impressive was Baylor’s interior passing among the big men. The Bears dished out 29 assists as the 6-9 Omot collected nine and 6-5 redshirt freshman Mark Vital added six assists.
“They’ve worked on their games for the last eight months, and they want to show the fans what they can do,” Drew said. “We stayed true to ourselves and did a good job of not settling for shots, but trying to get great shots. I thought we were unselfish.”
Making his first start in his first game as a freshman, Clark showed why he was so highly regarded coming out of San Antonio Wagner High School as he nailed seven of nine shots and had three assists.
“I had some first-game jitters,” Clark said. “The first couple of plays I was a little shaky. I just needed one bucket to get my rhythm going, and after that I just played my game.”
Central Arkansas grabbed an 8-7 lead in the early minutes before Lecomte drilled back-to-back treys. After Central Arkansas cut the lead to 13-12, the Bears took command of the game by reeling off 14 straight points.
Lecomte started the streak with a pair of free throws before Clark scored a pair of baskets in the paint. Maston, who had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds in 20 minutes, got loose for a dunk.
Clark then took a pass from Vital for a basket inside, drew a foul and hit the free throw for a three-point play. Lecomte finished off the run with his fourth 3-pointer to stretch Baylor’s lead to 27-12 with 10:19 left in the first half.
“I thought I had open 3’s, that’s what I do,” Lecomte said. “My teammates did a great job of pushing the ball and finding me. All I do is run and spot up, and I’ve just got to shoot it.”
The Bears kept expanding their lead as Vital drove for a basket and hit a free throw for a three-point play. Omot got loose for a pair of treys and McClure drilled a shot from long range.
As the half closed, Lual-Acuil and Clark sliced inside for baskets as the Bears opened up a 53-37 halftime lead on 63 percent shooting.
As hot as the Bears shot in the first half, they were even hotter in the second half as they nailed 68.8 percent from the field.
With their size advantage, the Bears dominated the boards, 42-21. Guard Jordan Howard led Central Arkansas with 22 points, but it wasn’t nearly enough to challenge Baylor.
“I think Scott (Drew) has done a good job of consistently bringing talent in here and making this one of the premier programs,” said Central Arkansas coach Russ Pennell. “I know when you lose a player like Motley, you’re always wondering who’s next. I think they got an answer today. I think the length and strength of this team inside was very impressive. And obviously when you get point guard play like you got, this has the makings of a very good team.”