LAS VEGAS — Baylor hadn’t been on a basketball court for a game in 266 days, until Saturday night.
And it showed – for a moment.
The Bears shook off a sluggish start to the season, MaCio Teague scored 21 points and No. 2 Baylor won its delayed season opener 112-82 over Louisiana-Lafayette.
Baylor, which adjusted its opening schedule after coach Scott Drew tested positive for COVID-19, shot 45-for-80 (56.3%) from the floor, including 15-for-27 (55.6%) from 3-point range. The Bears’ 15 3-pointers were their most in a game since last year’s season opener, when they made 18 against Central Arkansas.
“The first three or four minutes of the game you could see the guys really winded,” said Baylor assistant coach Jerome Tang, who served as head coach for Drew. “Game speed is so much different than practice. … I felt like we got our legs underneath us and focused in a little bit more. Our depth, too … I just felt like we got better when we subbed.”
Davion Mitchell finished with 18 points for the Bears (1-0). Jared Butler and LJ Cryer each scored 17 and Adam Flagler chipped in 12.
“Anyone can go off any night,” Mitchell said. “Just spreading the ball (and) passing the ball, we’re gonna share the sugar, we’re gonna have fun.”
Cedric Russell led the Ragin Cajuns (0-1) with 26 points. Theo Akwuba scored 22 and Brayan Au added 16.
The Bears were supposed to open the season with two games in Connecticut, but didn’t make the trip to the Empire Classic where they would have played No. 18 Arizona State and No. 3 Villanova.
Baylor had also been scheduled to play Seton Hall on Sunday, but the schools mutually agreed to cancel the game in Las Vegas. Drew stayed home in Waco, Texas.
In an earlier game in Las Vegas on Saturday, Air Force defeated Cal State Northridge, 66-61. There are two games scheduled for Sunday and another Monday.
The games were part of a string of opening-week contests being played in neutral cities without spectators. So, rather than a thunderous two-handed slam dunk by Baylor’s Flo Thamba with 11:55 left in the first half igniting a crowd, it took the sounds of Waka Flocka Flame, Lil Baby or Drake to make the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights’ home arena vibrate during timeouts.
The Bears came out sluggish in the first half, allowing Louisiana-Lafayette to hang around. The Ragin’ Cajuns hit five of their first six free throws, including four straight at the midway point, cutting Baylor’s lead to one, 21-20.
The Bears went on a 32-20 run and carried a 53-40 lead into the intermission.
Led by Mitchell, who was a 6-for-6 from the floor en route to 13 first-half point, Baylor shot 56.4% (22 of 39) from the field, including 9 of 15 (60%) from 3-point range. The Bears had eight players contribute to the scoring in the first 20 minutes.
“I felt like we took a lot of uncontested shots and that was teammates creating shots for each other,” Tang said. “I’m pretty sure when we break down this film, there won’t be too many, especially in the second half, what we would grade as a tough shot.”
NOTHING’S CHANGED: Baylor, which returns four All-Big 12 players from last year’s 26-4 team, appears to have carried offensive and defensive prowess over from last season. The Bears, who built a double-digit lead in 24 of 30 games last season, never relinquished their double-digit advantage over Louisiana-Lafayette after taking a 33-22 lead with 5:33 left in the first half. Baylor, which forced 15 or more turnovers in 18 of its 30 games last year, forced 19 on Saturday.
BACK IN VEGAS: After starting his collegiate career at UNLV, redshirt-sophomore transfer Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua was back in Las Vegas for his first game with Baylor after sitting out last season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules. The 6-foot-8 forward from Cameroon, who averaged 3.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in 31 games (11 starts) as freshman at UNLV, finished the night with six points and seven rebounds for the Bears.
COVID TESTS: Vegas Bubble officials reported more than 400 rapid antigen or PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests for six men’s teams and two women’s teams with no positive COVID results from any team members traveling to Las Vegas. With cancellations running rampant, a sports representative with promoter bdGlobal confirmed other teams have expressed interest in playing games in the Vegas Bubble over the next week.
POLL IMPLICATIONS: After No. 1 Gonzaga opened the season with two dominating wins against Kansas (102-90) and Auburn (90-67), the Bears should be locked into No. 2, provided it gets by Washington on Sunday.
Louisiana-Lafayette: Will play at New Orleans on Dec. 2.
Baylor: Will play Washington in Las Vegas on Sunday.