By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
After an emotional reunion with his parents at the Dallas airport, Baylor 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil got back to the Ferrell Center just 30 minutes before tip-off of Thursday's game.
"I was nervous, just because my mom has never seen me play," said Lual-Acuil, who had 18 points, five rebounds and two blocks to help the 21st-ranked Bears (8-2) blow out Texas Southern, 99-68. "I was trying to make sure I played a good game for her. It was just great seeing them. No words can really explain how I'm feeling."
Joseph Acuil and Ayen Mayor, who flew in from the Sudan, watched as their son and the Bears won their third in a row and came within one point of their first back-to-back 100-point outings in almost 30 years. They will remain in town for Saturday's graduation ceremony, when Lual-Acuil receives his diploma.
"So, Jo is the man," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "I know before the game, the team really wanted it to be a special night for Jo. They really wanted him to play well, wanted us to play well. And they knew he'd be emotional. It was really neat to see just how they all tried to make sure it was a good night for Jo."
The game also marked the return of senior point guard Manu Lecomte, who sat out Saturday's 105-82 win over Randall at the Ford Hood Army base with a thumb injury. He was an efficient 7-of-11 from the floor, 3-of-6 from outside the 3-point arc and 5-of-5 from the line, tying Nuni Omot for team-high scoring honors with 22 points.
"Maybe we need to wrap his hand every time," Drew said.
Omot, who was 10-of-12 from the floor with a couple nice dunks off alley-oop passes from Lecomte, said "what he brings to our team is really special."
"Having him out there, you can notice a difference when he's playing," Omot said. "We love playing with Manu, so it was good to have him back."
Redshirt freshman forward Mark Vital also came back from a hamstring injury, finishing with five points, seven rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes. Tristan Clark had nine points and seven boards, while Jake Lindsey came off the bench to score nine points on 4-of-5 shooting.
The Bears set a program record with a 66.12 field goal percentage (41-of-62), two hundredths of a point better than they shot in the season-opening win over Central Arkansas (66.10).
"Offensively, whenever you set records, I guess it's a good night," Drew said. "So, that was a good thing."
Texas State (0-10) remained winless, but this was just the third time the Tigers haven't kept it close. They led Washington State by 22 on the road, took Oregon down to the wire, lost by two at Toledo and by seven at Clemson.
"We knew what they were capable of," Drew said. "They have a real good game plan where they make you play defense and work it around and shorten the game. I thought our guys, the first 12-13 minutes, we were OK. But when we got that separation before the end of the half and then the first five minutes of the second half, I thought we were outstanding. That kind of set the tone for the rest of the game."
It was nip-and-tuck through the first 13 minutes until Lecomte kicked off an 11-4 run with a rare four-point play. He buried a 3-pointer from the corner and hit the follow free throw after getting fouled by Demontrae Jefferson, a 5-7 guard who poured in 24 points for the Tigers.
King McClure fed Omot for a slam dunk, then Clark scored on a tip-in to give the Bears their first double-digit lead, 32-22. Donte Clark ended the run with a jumper, but then Lual-Acuil got loose for a dunk and Clark made one of two free throws, extending the lead to 35-24.
That run came with 7-2 center Trayvon Reed on the Texas Southern bench with his second foul.
Lual-Acuil said it was "different" going against a player taller than him.
"Going against the guys in practice, (6-8 transfer Freddie Gillespie) is pretty tall and has good length, but he's not really 7-2," Lual-Acuil said. "When you go against a 7-2 guy, it's always fun. That's a great experience moving forward."
Baylor took an 11-point lead into the halftime and stretched it to 62-37 at the 14:15 mark in the second half with a 17-0 run that included 3-pointers by Lecomte, McClure and Omot and capped by a Lual-Acuil hook over Reed.
"That was really just my team doing a good job of making sure I had the ball in places where I could be effective," Lual-Acuil said. "Coach Drew has an emphasis on playing inside-out. When I'm open, I'll shoot it. And when I'm not, I'll kick it out. It's just me making reads, basically."
Sophomore guard Obim Okeke, a walk-on from the Baylor football team, scored his first points in a basketball uniform on a 3-point bucket with 33 seconds left. Junior walk-on forward Jonathan Davis also hit a 3-pointer in the closing stretch, with the Bears going 10-for-18 from outside the arc.
"They just pounded us, got offensive rebounds," Texas Southern coach Mike Davis said. "They play so physical, they take a lot out of you."
Baylor wraps up pre-conference play with two more home games, facing Savannah State at 2 p.m. Sunday and Southern at 7 p.m. Wednesday, before opening Big 12 with a road game against No. 24 Texas Tech on Dec. 29.