Highly touted freshman center Isaiah Austin gave Baylor an impressive glimpse of what he’s capable of doing – and a big scare – in his first game.
The 7-foot-1 Austin scored 22 points in 17 minutes before spraining his right ankle, an injury that apparently wasn’t as bad for No. 19 as it initially appeared when he sat on the floor after making a shot and the crowd went silent.
”Baby ankle,” senior point guard Pierre Jackson was able to joke after Baylor’s 99-77 season-opening win over Lehigh on Friday.
”For 17 minutes, I don’t know if you can be much more impressive than Isaiah was. We have to get him healthy now. Obviously the rest of the world knows about him now,” coach Scott Drew said. ”It didn’t look real severe. He was limping around in the locker room so that’s a good thing.”
Cory Jefferson added 26 points with nine dunks for the Bears, who play Jackson State on Sunday and have five games in the first 10 days of the season. Jackson had 14 points and 12 assists.
Austin, a McDonald’s All-American considered one of the nation’s top freshmen, went to the ground after making a turnaround jumper with about 16 minutes left. He stepped on somebody else’s foot coming down.
Austin was 10-for-12 shooting, including three dunks and two 3-pointers. The crowd became quiet as the trainers looked at Austin, who removed the goggles from his head and pulled his jersey over his face. He tried not to put any weight while being helped off the floor and to the locker room, but was able to return to the bench before the end of the game.
Preseason AP All-American C.J. McCollum had 36 points for the Mountain Hawks, who as a No. 15 seed in last season’s NCAA tournament upset Duke.
”We’ve already tried to forget about it, put it in the past because every year is a new team, a new identity and we’re just trying to form that right now,” McCollum said. ”And hopefully as the season continues to progress, people will stop talking about what we did in the past and try to focus on what we’re trying to do this year and in the future.”
The season opener provided both teams a matchup that almost was in that NCAA tournament.
Lehigh lost its next NCAA tournament game to Xavier, which then advanced to play Baylor in the round of 16. The Bears won that game before losing to eventual national champion Kentucky in a regional final.
While returning preseason Big 12 player of the year Jackson, the Bears are a different team after losing three players to the NBA draft – Quincy Acy and underclassmen Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller.
McCollum scored the first seven points for Lehigh. That included two free throws even before the tipoff because of a technical foul assessed against the Bears for dunking during a pregame warmups.
There were no rules against all the dunks once the game started.
Jefferson finished one short of Acy’s school record of 10 dunks in a game.
After McCollum’s 3-pointer made it 7-4, Baylor got its first dunk on Jackson’s alley-oop pass to Jefferson. Then after McCollum got called for charging, the Bears went ahead to stay when Austin hit a 3-pointer from the left side only about 3 minutes into the game.
Baylor quickly extended its lead to 17-7 on a putback by Jefferson. There was also a play in that span when Leigh guard Mackey McKnight twice grabbed rebounds of his own missed shots, before Jackson stole the ball and passed ahead to Deuce Bello for a layup.
McKnight had 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting for Lehigh, which last season tied a Patriot League record with 27 victories. McCollum made 14 of 32 shots.
The Bears had a 51-41 halftime lead, and then scored the first six points after the break. Brady Heslip made a layup before Austin’s alley-oop dunk on an inbound pass from Jackson and then a layup by the freshman.
”Isaiah Austin is a very talented player, he is a very difficult matchup,” Lehigh coach Brett Reed said. ”Obviously he can score around the basket and mid-range. One thing that really impressive and I know that he was only listed for two blocks. There were a number of altered shots. … We were able to make a pretty solid move as far as penetration was concerned, but everything surrounding almost a 7-foot radius around the basket he seemed to affect if we got in there.”