By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
LUBBOCK, Texas - No number defined 18th-ranked Baylor's struggles in Friday's Big 12 opener at No. 22 Texas Tech better than one.
That was the total number of assists the Bears (10-3, 0-1) had in a 77-53 loss to the Red Raiders (12-1, 1-0) before a crowd of 12,827 at United Supermarkets Arena.
"I didn't think that was possible," said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team had a five-game winning streak with its third loss this year to a ranked opponent. "It was a combination. I thought we did a bad job coaching and playing, and I thought Tech's defense was good."
Tech's defense was much better than good. Ranked second nationally in points allowed and opponent shooting percentage coming into the game, the Red Raiders held Baylor to a season-low in points and a dismal 37.3 shooting percentage (19-of-51).
They harassed senior point guard Manu Lecomte all night, holding the league's No. 2 scorer to a season-low eight points on 3-of-11 shooting and zero assists and three of Baylor's 14 turnovers.
"We probably should have done a better job of getting him more opportunities," Drew said, "but they did a really good job. Every time, there were two guys on him coming off screens. And they had good defensive players on him, which made it tough one-on-one to get a shot."
Playing without 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil, who missed the game with his sprained left foot in a protective boot, the Bears weren't able to establish the inside-outside balance that makes them so hard to defend.
Senior forward Terry Maston returned for the first time in a month, after missing the six previous games with a broken right hand. But, he was scoreless in 21 minutes, going 0-for-4 from the floor and grabbing just three rebounds.
"Obviously, not having Jo hurt," Drew said. "(Maston) just coming back, that wasn't TJ. We were trying to get some other guys opportunities. Hopefully, it will be a great learning experience for us. Hopefully, we'll get a lot better, because nobody likes feeling the way we did after today's game. Credit Texas Tech, though, because coach (Chris) Beard has done a great job. They're very talented, they play really hard, they compete. Definitely a good team."
With Lual-Acuil out and the 6-8 Maston limited, the Bears were dominated on the boards, 39-21.
"It's not just Jo, it's not having Jo and TJ," Drew said. "When you've got one guy over 6-9, it makes it tough to rebound, makes it tough to run offense, makes it tough to get inside and score. . . . It made it tough to put (freshman Tristan Clark) on a lonely island. I thought he got better in the second half, got valuable experience, but it hurt without TJ and Jo."
Beard, whose team has won six in a row since a Nov. 30 loss at Madison Square Garden to Seton Hall, said beating the nation's eighth-best rebounding team on the boards so decisively "was the key to the game."
"Baylor's identity is rebounding," he said. "They're really good at it. They recruit to it. They coach it. They emphasize it. If you don't rebound with Baylor, you have no chance to win the game."
Despite some early offensive struggles, Baylor trailed by just six midway through the first half, 15-9. But, the Bears missed eight shots in a six-minute scoring drought, as Tech reeled off 14 unanswered points and went up 29-9 on a layup by Brandone Francis.
The Red Raiders had a 22-8 edge on the boards in the first half and went into the locker room with a 21-point lead, 40-19, when Niem Stevenson drained a 3-pointer from the wing.
"I thought the first half, we were all embarrassed by how we played," Drew said. "For the first 10, 12 minutes, besides not being able to do much, at least we kept it close. And then the last eight minutes, we let things get away from us, trying to speed up and trying to catch up."
Junior guard King McClure, who scored in double figures (10 points) for the ninth time this season and 22nd time in his career, said the Bears "got smacked, and we didn't respond well."
"They came out and punched us in the mouth, and we didn't put up a fight," McClure said. "It was embarrassing, but we'll bounce back and put this behind us. . . . We need a short-term memory, because we've got 17 more (Big 12) games. If we lose by 20 or by two at the buzzer, it's the same. We're 0-1, and we've got 17 more games."
Making his first career start, 6-5 freshman forward Mark Vital was one of the Bears' few bright spots. He was 4-of-8 from the floor, 4-of-5 from the line and finished with a team-high 12 points to go with four rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 28 minutes.
Battling foul trouble all night, Clark scored all 10 of his points in the second half, hitting 3-of-5 from the floor and 4-of-5 from the line before picking up his fifth foul at the 2:16 mark.
Vital said he jammed a finger on his right hand "on the back of the goal" when he missed a dunk at the 9:15 mark in the second half. But, he returned for the last 5 ½ minutes and "should be good."
That's good news for a Baylor team that has had eight or fewer healthy scholarship players for most of the season. The Bears come back to Waco for back-to-back home games, facing 10th-ranked TCU (12-0, 0-0) at 6 p.m. Tuesday and Texas (9-4, 0-1) at 1 p.m. next Saturday, Jan. 6.