By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Manu Lecomte has his work cut out for him if he wants to lead Baylor in assists for the second year in a row.
The senior point guard knocked down six 3-pointers and scored 22 points as the 24th-ranked Bears opened the season Friday afternoon at the Ferrell Center with a 107-66 blowout of Central Arkansas before a crowd of 7,791.
But, the assists leader after the first game is 6-9 forward Nuni Omot, who had an impressive stat line with 15 points, nine assists and six rebounds in his first career start.
"You always take what the defense is giving you," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "I thought we had a great interior advantage, and our bigs really did a good job in feeding each other and making sure they placed the ball where the smaller guys couldn't get to it."
Between Omot, 6-9 freshman forward Tristan Clark and 6-5 redshirt freshman forward Mark Vital, that inside trio combined for 18 of the team's 29 assists. Lecomte had only two assists, but he was an efficient 6-of-8 from outside the arc and hit six of the Bears' 12 made 3-pointers.
"Nuni did a great job passing," said Lecomte, who hit four of his six treys in the first 9 ½ minutes, helping the Bears get out to a 27-12 lead. "They found me, and I just had to shoot when I was open. A lot of weapons, a lot of guys who can do a lot of things, so that was great."
Despite being limited to a rotation of eight scholarship players, Baylor set program records for field goal percentage (66.1, 39-of-59) and 3-point percentage (70.6, 12-of-17) and scored 100 points in regulation versus a Division I team for the first time since a 100-61 win over Savannah State on Nov. 23, 2015.
"Coaches are nervous about everything," Drew said. "First game, you never know what it's going to be like. 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. The only negative was probably our turnovers (16)."
The Bears also had all five starters score in double figures for the first time since March 23, 2014 - an NCAA second-round win over Creighton - a span of 105 games. Jo Lual-Acuil flirted with a double-double, finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds - with Clark and King McClure scoring 15 apiece.
Senior forward Terry Maston gave the Bears a sixth double-figure scorer, coming off the bench for his second career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Drew said the nice thing about the eight-man rotation is you don't "have to worry about rotations because everyone's playing."
"The big thing is injuries, illnesses, practice, you need the depth," he said. "Hopefully before long, we can add to the eight. But, this is a great opportunity for those eight to get a lot of quality minutes."
Even 6-6 walk-on junior forward Jonathan Davis contributed, with an and-one three-point play and an assist in three minutes.
UCA head coach Russ Pennell said "you're always wondering who's next" after losing a player like All-American forward Johnathan Motley, but "I think they got an answer today."
"I think the length and the strength of this team inside was very impressive," Pennell said. "Obviously, when you get point guard play like you got, this has the makings of a very good team. Scott has done a good job of consistently bringing talent in here and making this one of the premier programs. What they've done the last couple years is very impressive."
Clark said he had some "first-game jitters, the first couple of plays I was a little shaky." But, you certainly couldn't tell it by his play on the court. He was 7-of-9 from the field and finished with 15 points, three assists and only one steal in 27 minutes.
"Normally, freshmen tend to turn it over," Drew said. "He really does a good job of being solid with the ball. . . . I know Tristan's one of those guys that our upperclassmen love, because he's so coachable, he listens, he's respectful, and those guys are happy when he does well and they're able to help him."
Baylor plays Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at 7 p.m. Monday and Alcorn State at 8 p.m. next Friday, with Drew in line to pick up his 300th career victory.