No. 21 Baylor wary of winless Texas Southern

WACO, Texas — The No. 21 Baylor Bears might be facing the most dangerous game against a winless team that the program has ever seen when they tip off against Texas Southern on Thursday night.

Baylor (7-2) finished up semester exams earlier this week and it hasn’t faced an NCAA opponent in 10 days. The Bears defeated Randall of the National Christian College Athletic Association, 105-82, over the weekend.

Texas Southern (0-9), meanwhile, is returning to its home state after a trip to Oregon earlier this week. The Tigers battled Oregon for 40 minutes and were within three points when guard Demontrae Jefferson made a layup with 1:15 left in the second half.

The Ducks held Texas Southern scoreless for the final minute and prevailed, 74-68, but the Tigers’ close call got the attention of the Baylor players.

“They’re actually a pretty good team,” Baylor guard King McClure said. “People take them for granted. They look at their record and it’s 0-8 or 0-9 and then you look at who they’ve played and, dang, they’ve played some really good teams. They always come out and give us a great game.”

Texas Southern has won the SWAC Tournament three of the last four seasons to earn NCAA Tournament berths. Baylor should also take note that the Tigers were 1-8 and coming off a 40-point loss against Gonzaga when they defeated No. 25 Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., in December of 2015.

So far this season, Texas Southern has played at No. 18 Gonzaga and at No. 3 Kansas. The Tigers haven’t played a home game yet and have gone into the arenas of six Power 5 conference programs.

“They’ve played a who’s-who of college basketball,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “I think they try to play as many Top 25 opponents as possible.”

Jefferson enters the game averaging 22 points and leads four Texas Southern players who average double digits. Tigers 7-foot-2 center Trayvon Reed is close to posting a double-double per game with 10.1 points and 9.7 rebounds.

However, the biggest problem Texas Southern presents for Baylor is the fact that the Tigers use a 10-player rotation.

The Bears are struggling with depth so far as they began the season with an eight-man lineup and have since lost forward Terry Maston to a broken hand until January. Baylor got guard Tyson Jolly back from an undisclosed medical issue that sidelined him for the start of the season, but forward Mark Vital is questionable for Thursday’s game. The Bears were also missing guard Manu Lecomte, their leading scorer, in the win over Randall because of a thumb injury. Lecomte is expected to be ready to play against Texas Southern.

Baylor begins Big 12 play on Dec. 29 at Texas Tech and will likely be juggling its lineup into the early stages of conference action. But at least the Bears have games against the Tigers, Savannah State and Southern — the three teams are combined 5-25 — to find their rhythm.

“We’re looking forward to when we’re all healthy and we have everybody back,” Drew said. “But excited for this stretch of basketball now and excited to improve in the next couple of days.”