WACO, Texas (AP)—Pierre Jackson and the 19th-ranked Baylor Bears are doing OK so far without the three post players they lost to the NBA.
They have some talented freshmen around Jackson, the senior point guard who was the preseason Big 12 player of the year. Plus, 6-9 junior forward Cory Jefferson is thriving in his role as a starter.
Jackson had 25 points and seven assists while Jefferson added 14 points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots for the Bears in a 78-47 victory over Jackson State on Sunday.
With 7-foot-1 freshman center Isaiah Austin out because of a sprained right ankle sustained after scoring 22 points in 17 minutes in the opener two days earlier, freshman post players Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince had 13 points each against Jackson State.
Gathers, making his first start with Austin out, also had 10 rebounds.
“Yeah, Rico stepped up. I honestly didn’t know he was starting. You didn’t either?,” said Jackson, looking at Gathers for the affirmative response. “It took him by surprise, but he made the best of it and went out there and got a double-double.”
Jackson scored the game’s first five points—on a free throw, a jumper and a tip-in in the first 3 minutes—and the Bears (2-0) never trailed.
Jeff Stubbs had 15 points to lead Jackson State, the Southwestern Athletic Conference team from Mississippi playing its season opener. Willie Readus had 11 points.
Before the game, Baylor unveiled a banner for its NCAA regional final appearance last season. The Bears had a school-record 30 victories last season while advancing to a regional final for the second time in three years.
The Bears lost four post players from last year’s team, including three NBA-drafted players—Quincy Acy and underclassmen Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller.
Then even without Austin, the Bears dominated in the paint again against Jackson State.
The Bears scored 54 of their points inside, including more dunks by Jefferson, who had nine in the opener after waiting his turn to start behind the pro prospects.
“Cory is somebody that we expect a lot of. He’s been here for a while. He’s learned from some outstanding players,” Drew said. “It’s his turn to lead now. He’s doing it by example. We haven’t given him a lot of rest. He’s been able to sustain his energy level and really provide that defensive presence, and on the offensive end, he’s been very efficient.”
Baylor has won all six series games against the Tigers, all coming in the last six seasons. The Bears are 43-0 all-time against SWAC teams.
In the season-opening 99-77 win over Lehigh, the No. 15 seed that upset Duke in last season’s NCAA tournament, the Bears scored 68 points in the paint, had 28 assists and shot 65 percent from the field—all the best single-game marks under coach Scott Drew, who is in his 10th season.
Austin scored 22 points in 17 minutes in that win over Lehigh before he rolled his ankle early in the second half when he came down on the foot of a defender after making a turnaround jumper.
It isn’t clear how long Austin will be out.
Readus made a jumper midway through the first half to get Jackson State within 19-10. That’s as close as the Tigers would get.
Baylor then scored 10 consecutive points, with Jackson’s two free throws making it 29-10 with 6 minutes left before halftime. That spurt started when Jackson had an assist for a basket by A.J. Walton, who returned the favor with a pass to Jackson for a fastbreak layup.
Walton had a steal that led to a dunk by Gathers, who then had a diving steal at the top of the key. Gathers swatted the ball to the other end of the court, where it was picked up by Jackson for a dunk of his own.
Baylor led 40-23 at halftime, and had as much as a 34-point lead after that.
“We didn’t do anything great tonight. This was our first game, and we played like a team playing its first game,” Tigers coach Tevester Anderson said. “They got too many transition baskets. They got some blocks and they got some rebounds, and then took it in transition.”