WACO, Texas (AP) After posting three straight comebacks to win the Battle 4 Atlantis championship last week in the Bahamas, No. 9 Baylor came home hoping to avoid an emotional letdown.
Thanks to a smothering defense, the Bears had nothing to worry about Wednesday night.
Reserve King McClure scored 14 points and Baylor remained unbeaten with a 79-45 victory over Sam Houston State.
“This is one of those games everybody thought would be a trap game,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Coaches get worried about every game, but I was really concerned from the standpoint that several teams that came back off the islands yesterday Michigan State lost, St. John’s lost, VCU was down 16-0 to Princeton, so you’re always worried about that hangover.”
Baylor shot 46.4 percent from the field, including 13 for 31 from 3-point range. On the other end, Sam Houston State missed its first 13 shots while Baylor opened the game on a 10-0 run. The Bears (7-0) limited the Bearkats to 28.6 percent shooting, blocked 11 shots and altered countless others.
McClure struggled early in the season with his shot, but that changed with a 15-point second half against Louisville in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game.
“After the Louisville game I feel like I gained my confidence back,” McClure said. “Once I saw the ball go through the basket one time, I just continued to see it. I just put my head down and continued to grind it out.”
Al Freeman had 13 points for the Bears, and Ishmail Wainright added 12. Their big front line players, Jo Lual-Acuil and Johnathan Motley, dominated the boards with 14 rebounds apiece.
“I could sit up here and talk about our team tonight, but that wouldn’t be fair to Baylor,” Sam Houston State coach Jason Hooten said. “I think Coach (Drew) has a really good team. It seems it could be one of the best teams he’s ever had because he has a bunch of good kids that like playing together. They share the ball and they seem to play harder defensively than they ever have in the past.”
Sam Houston State (4-3) came in averaging 81.7 points per game, but never got into a rhythm. Aurimas Majauskas led the Bearkats with 13 points.
“I’m totally disappointed in our team,” Hooten said. “We’re way better than that. We’re picked to win our league, and I know we’ve played a brutal schedule but we just weren’t very good tonight.”
Sam Houston State: There weren’t many positives to take from this game. The Bearkats were selected as the Southland Conference favorite in the preseason, thanks to an experienced roster. But they were overwhelmed by Baylor’s size on the inside and shooting on the perimeter.
Baylor: This had every opportunity to be a sandwich game for the Bears. They defeated two ranked teams in No. 24 Michigan State and No. 10 Louisville to win the Battle 4 Atlantis last week and will host No. 7 Xavier on Saturday. They avoided that trap with a defense that contested nearly every shot without fouling. Sam Houston State had one free throw attempt.
Sam Houston State returns home for four of its next five games, starting with LSU-Shreveport on Saturday. The Bearkats have one more road test against a Power Five team before opening conference play. That comes Dec. 22 against Arkansas.
Baylor has knocked off three ranked teams and gets another shot Saturday, when it welcomes No. 7 Xavier. That figures to be the last difficult hurdle between the Bears and an undefeated nonconference run.
Baylor has had a meteoric rise from not receiving a vote in the preseason to No. 9 this week. With losses from teams in front of the Bears already, combined with hosting No. 7 Xavier on Saturday, they have a chance to move even higher in the Top Ten.