Baylor Bear Foundation
Playing in front of a home crowd for Friday night's season debut, the Baylor basketball team revealed to its fans some familiar basketball moves from some unfamiliar faces.
Though the crowd was eager to cheer on some of the returning players, like junior guard Al Freeman and junior forward Johnathan Motley, it was some of the new faces that energized the Ferrell Center crowd of 5,250 in a 76-61 victory over Oral Roberts.
After sitting out last season due to a heart issue, Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. introduced himself to Baylor Nation quickly, delivering high-percentage shots in the paint over Oral Roberts' Albert Owens.
While holding the opposing center to an uncharacteristically low 3-of-14 field goals, Lual-Acuil disproved the myth that big men can't shoot, knocking down a 3-pointer to cap off an 11-2 Baylor run in the middle of the first half.
With Motley serving a one-game suspension, Lual-Acuil proved the Bears can hold their own without the preseason All-Big 12 player. The 7-footer had 12 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, controlling the tempo of the game and dictating how ORU would play on the offensive end.
"I give a lot of credit for his defense on Albert (Owens). He altered shots and blocked shots," ORU head coach Scott Sutton said. "Albert's a very good basketball player, and he obviously struggled tonight. They held two of our best players to 6-for-26, and you're not going to beat any good team on the road when (they) shoot like that."
Lual-Acuil Jr. wasn't the only new Bear to have a big impact on the game. Miami transfer Manu Lecomte was forced to sit out a season as well, but the wait certainly seemed worth it for the fourth-year junior guard.
Flying around the court like Pierre Jackson's double, Lecomte scored 13 points, though his most impressive stat line was 11 assists and zero turnovers.
"I thought we shared the ball well. Anytime you have 11 assists, zero turnovers from the point guard play, that's hard to beat," said head coach Scott Drew, who recorded his 11th straight season-opening win. "Very impressive performance from Manu."
Though he was disappointed with his shooting percentage (4-for-13 overall and 2-for-8 from 3-point range), that did nothing to taek away his joy from playing basketball again after such a long way.
The way he sees it, nothing better than to celebrate playing the sport you love than recording a double-double (13 points, 11 assists).
"I haven't played in a year and a half, so I was a little nervous," Lecomte said. "But 11 assists, I have the best teammates. I can make good passes, but they have to finish. They did a great job."
Lecomte made the most of his free throw attempts, repeatedly driving to the basket in the second half in order to create separation for his teammates. When fouled, he knocked down 3-of-4 from the line.
The Bears made efficient use of their opportunities throughout the night, hitting 39 percent from outside the arc (10-of-26). Although they notched nine steals and five blocks on the defensive end, there are still areas where they need to improve if they hope to nail down their fourth consecutive berth to the NCAA Tournament.
"I thought last year defensively, we struggled at the 3-point line," Drew said. "And I thought we were pretty good tonight, gave up 23 percent. I thought that was very good. Rebounding, that's an area where we've still got to do a much better job, because (last season) you didn't have to box out and Rico (Gathers) could take on two guys and get the ball."
With big bodies like Lual-Acuil, Ish Wainwright, Motley and Terry Maston on the court, rebounds are sure to come for Baylor. If they do, and Lecomte continues to pluck opposing passes out of the air like he did twice in the second half - one leading to Wainwright free-throw attempts and the other a Freeman layup to give the Bears a 17 point lead - this team has deadly potential.
Facing its first real challenge Tuesday, Baylor will play No. 5 Oregon at 2:30p.m. at the Ferrell Center as part of ESPN's College Basketball Tip-Off Marathon.
Not minutes after his first game in a Baylor uniform, Lecomte ws already looking ahead to the next challenge.
"This game is over now. We play Oregon Tuesday. We have to make sure we come in ready tomorrow and prepare for that game just like we did today," he said. "It's going to be a big game."