No. 4 Baylor hosts Southern, aiming for 9-0
WACO, Texas -- The Southern Jaguars will roll into Baylor's Ferrell Center on Wednesday, hoping to interrupt the No. 4 Bears' perfect beginning to this basketball season.
Baylor knows Southern, the SWAC tournament champion last season, will be aiming for a big upset and there's at least a hint of a reason to believe the Jaguars can do it.
Baylor (8-0) surged through its first eight games with wins over four ranked opponents, including two in the top 10. But the Bears haven't played a game in 11 days during the school's final exams.
Baylor coach Scott Drew said he could sense that the end of the academic semester was mentally draining on his team. Now the Bears have to try to regain their rhythm on the court against a program that has proven to be pesky.
"Last time they came here it was a one-possession game with under 15 seconds to go," Drew said. "(Southern) was a team that was in the NCAA Tournament last year, traditionally top three in their league."
Indeed, if Baylor had not made 11-of-12 free throws down the stretch in its last game against Southern, the Jaguars might have left Waco with a win. Southern held Baylor without a field goal for the final 6:09 in that game in December of 2014.
Jaguars guard Tre'lun Banks played a key role two years ago as he scored 13 points and dished out seven assists versus Baylor. That's become the standard for Banks, who is averaging 12.7 points and 5.8 assists through the first nine games of this season.
If the Baylor-versus-Southern matchup appears to be a showcase and easy win for the soaring Bears, the Baylor players know better. Bears senior forward Ishmail Wainright was a sophomore playing significant minutes two years ago when a Southern team with a 3-9 record fought then-No. 22 Baylor to the very end.
"Tomorrow is going to be a test," Wainright said. "They're a great team. My sophomore season, we were down to Southern by one right before halftime."
The Jaguars (4-5) have had a roller-coaster nonconference ride so far in this campaign. Southern lost its first three games of the season, but since it has won four of six.
While Baylor has been away from the court for final exams, the Jaguars have played three games, most recently an 86-50 victory over Ecclesia.
But this will be Southern's first game against a ranked opponent this season. The Jaguars will be trying to knock off a Baylor team that has perhaps the best resume of any team in the nation through the first month of action.
"This is the best I've felt about a Baylor team just on the court having fun," Wainright said. "We fight every day, but it's a good fight. We compete. Whenever a team is competing in practice, that's going to carry over to the game."
Southern is led in scoring by senior forward Shawn Prudhomme, who averages 18.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Prudhomme will have to battle for boards with Baylor's towering forwards Johnathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil.
Drew figures Prudhomme and the Jaguars will be up for the challenge, so Baylor will have to be focused.
"Why we're off to an 8-0 start is we've approached every game and been ready to play and ready to go," Drew said. "Hopefully that continues."