Baylor Savannah State

Baylor forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (0) eyes the basket over Savannah State forward Javaris Jenkins (5), left, in the first half Dec. 17.

Baylor learned just how miserable basketball can be without Jo Lual-Acuil in a 77-53 Big 12 opening road loss to No. 18 Texas Tech.

The Bears desperately need their 7-0 senior center, and he has gone through limited practice the last three days after a sprained left foot kept him out Friday against the Red Raiders.

But Baylor coach Scott Drew said it will be a game-time decision on whether Lual-Acuil will be healthy enough to play against No. 16 TCU at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Ferrell Center.

“He’s been able to do a little,” Drew said. “He’s excited to be back after watching the Texas Tech game. As far as how effective, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Lual-Acuil has averaged 15.1 points and 10 rebounds, and the Bears clearly missed his presence as the Red Raiders dominated the boards, 39-21. The Bears have focused on improving their rebounding since returning from Lubbock.

Ranked No. 18 last week, Baylor fell out of the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in more than a year following the 24-point loss to Texas Tech.

“In the last game we didn’t rebound well enough and we didn’t guard well enough,” said Baylor guard Jake Lindsey. “We didn’t create opportunities for our teammates. Obviously not having the best center in the Big 12 hurt, but that’s not an excuse to play like that. But we’ll be glad to have him back.”

Not only did the Bears (10-3) rebound poorly, their offensive execution suffered as they shot just 37.3 percent and had their worst scoring production of the season against the Red Raiders. The Bears were credited with just one assist while committing 14 turnovers.

After missing six games with a broken right hand, senior forward Terry Maston played 21 minutes against Texas Tech but missed all four shots including a pair of airballs.

“The good thing is T.J. (Maston) has been medically cleared, so he can’t do any additional damage,” Drew said. “He’s got the strongest hand in the country right now with his plate in it. So it’s a matter of him getting reps and getting used to playing again. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much time to do any of that before the Tech game. But he’ll get better and better, hopefully sooner rather than later, and get back to the T.J. we’re used to.”

The Bears will need to be on top of their game to beat a TCU squad that had won 17 straight games before dropping a 90-89 thriller against No. 7 Oklahoma on Saturday in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs (12-1) were the victim of Oklahoma freshman sensation Trae Young who amassed 39 points and 14 assists.

The Horned Frogs have ranked among the best offenses in the country this season as they’re sixth nationally with a 51.6 field goal percentage and 15th with a 41.3 3-point percentage.

TCU features five players averaging double figure scoring, including former University High School star Kenrich Williams at 15.1, forward Vlad Brodziansky at 13.4, guard Desmond Bane at 12.8, guard Jaylen Fisher at 11.0 and forward J.D. Miller at 10.9.

With Williams leading the way with 9.4 rebounds per game, the Horned Frogs have controlled the boards by a 38.2 to 29.0 margin.

“TCU is a very veteran team that returned a lot from last year,” Drew said. “It’s a team we knew was going to be very good this year, and like most Big 12 teams, they rebound really well. So we’ve got to do a lot better job on the glass than we did last game. As far as defensively, they’re very solid at what they do. You have to earn everything. They have people who have been there for a while, and they’ve expanded and do additional things on offense which makes them hard to guard.”

In coach Jamie Dixon’s first season, the Horned Frogs won the National Invitation Tournament last season. Drew has seen how such a major postseason run can improve a program, and isn’t surprised by the Horned Frogs’ success this season.

After reaching the NIT championship game in 2009, Drew’s Bears advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament in 2010. The Bears won the NIT in 2013 before making the Sweet 16 in 2014.

“Both years we had great NIT runs, it’s like going to a Final Four, it’s just a different tournament,” Drew said. “You get confidence, you play a lot longer, the young guys get a lot better because they play an additional month, so it’s normally a springboard. That’s why people who do well in the NIT, especially if they return a lot of players, they’re very good the following year.”

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