By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Texas Southern coach Mike Davis wanted to give a diplomatic answer and say that each of the four ranked teams the Tigers have played this year are great.
But, following his team's 89-63 loss to fourth-ranked Baylor Wednesday night, Davis had to admit, "They are the best team we've played." That's a murderer's-row schedule that includes Louisville, Arizona and Cincinnati, all on the road.
The Bears (12-0) shot a season-high 59.3 percent from the floor and got double-doubles from Johnathan Motley (17 points, 11 rebounds) and Jo Lual-Acuil (14 points, 10 rebounds) to win their fourth game in eight days and remain undefeated going into the Christmas break.
"That's how we wanted to go into Christmas, with a good feeling," said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team is one of six remaining undefeated Division I teams in the country. "In college basketball, it's hard to be on-point every night with the parity and competition. Ish (Wainright) and our upperclassmen have done a tremendous job of making sure we're focused on and on-point."
Davis, whose Tigers dropped to 4-9 in a stretch where they will play their first 16 in a row on the road, said the difference with this year's team is the shot-blocking presence of the 7-foot Lual-Acuil.
"The shot-blocker, he changes the game for them," Davis said of Lual-Acuil, who had three blocks Wednesday night and ranks second nationally with 4.18 per game.
"I thought (Rico) Gathers was really good last year, but he drew charges more than anything. Now, you go in there and you've got to look around, because Motley's already long, but they've got a big-time shot-blocker in there. So, you're hesitant when you go in there for layups. Now, you're forcing yourself to try and make shots."
The Bears held Texas Southern to 39.3 percent shooting from the floor (24-of-61), despite a dunking exhibition from Marvin Jones and Derrick Griffin, and won the battle of the boards, 35-30.
With Griffin averaging 11.1 rebounds, Texas Southern came into the game ranked 14th nationally with 14.4 offensive boards per game. And the Tigers got 17 of their 30 on the offensive end, but Baylor actually had a 20-16 edge in second-chance points.
"It may not show it in the numbers, but I thought we made a more conscious effort (on defensive rebounding)," Drew said. "When they played Louisville, Derrick Griffin had 15 offensive rebounds, 26 total. That guy's a monster. So I thought to hold him to five offensive rebounds - he averages six, we're doing all right."
The teams traded baskets through the first four minutes, with the Bears clinging to a 7-6 lead. But, Manu Lecomte drove in for a layup that sparked a 21-3 run that gave Baylor a 28-9 lead.
King McClure and Chuck Mitchell came off the bench to hit 3-pointers in the run, then Wainright capped it with another trey, giving the Bears a 19-point lead at the 7:55 mark in the first half. Texas Southern reeled off nine straight points to pull back within 10, but the Bears pushed it back to a 14-point margin, 40-26, at the break.
Kevin Scott came off the bench to hit 7-of-8 shots and score 15 points, all in the first half. But, the junior guard didn't score or get a single rebound despite playing 12 second-half minutes. "He was tired," Davis said.
The Tigers kept it reasonably close through the first 10 minutes of the second half, pulling to within 61-48 on a pair of free throws by Tyree Bynum. But, Baylor outscored them, 28-15, the rest of the way to pull away down the stretch.
Terry Maston, scoreless in the first half, scored 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the second half, getting two of them on a monster dunk off an alley-oop pass from Wainright.
"I knew they were dunking a lot, so we were trying to catch up to them," Maston said. "I don't know, I guess we both love attacking the rim. . . . That's what we like to do, match their intensity."
Lecomte, who had scored in single digits in six of the last seven games, knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and finished with 14 points and seven assists in 25 minutes.
"In games like that, I just to make sure everybody gets involved, everybody is going to play," said Lecomte, who had scored just 14 points combined on 5-of-15 shooting in the last three games. "My teammates always look for me, anyway. I'm going to keep looking for them."
Al Freeman added 10 points for the Bears, while Jones and freshman point guard Demontrae Jefferson had 10 apiece for the Tigers. Griffin, who came in averaging a double-double, was held to eight points and nine boards in 38 minutes.
After a four-day break for Christmas, the Bears will return to open Big 12 play Dec. 30 at Oklahoma (6-4) and then host Iowa State (8-3) on Jan. 4.