WACO, Texas — The 21st-ranked Baylor Bears took a little while to find their rhythm before they eventually shook off NAIA opponent Huston-Tillotson.
Baylor mounted a 23-5 run that spanned the late stages of the first half and the early part of the second, paving the way for a 81-61 victory on Wednesday night at the Ferrell Center.
Huston-Tillotson had no answer for Baylor forward Rico Gathers, who finished with a career-high 25 points and a school- and Big 12-record 28 rebounds.
Gathers’ effort on the boards topped Kansas State forward Michael Beasley’s previous Big 12 record of 24 rebounds set against Sacramento State during the 2007-08 season.
Baylor coach Scott Drew said the team was made aware of the chance to set the records by media relations director David Kaye and opted to give Gathers a few more minutes of playing time.
Gathers said his teammates were pushing for him to set the mark.
“They were keeping me updated throughout the last four or five minutes, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get such and such,'” Gathers said. “Then it became the coaches and stuff. They were really pushing for me to go get the record tonight.”
Gathers, who played 28 minutes, had 16 rebounds at halftime.
“He’s just like a monster on the boards,” Huston-Tillotson coach Thomas Henderson said. “He’s a great player. I think he’s a lottery pick. He can play.”
Gathers came into the game ranked second nationally in offensive rebounding with 5.4 per game. He gobbled up 12 offensive boards against the Rams to make a push for the top spot.
“When I heard he was four away (from the school record of 27), we’re like, ‘That could be just one trip,’ because sometimes on that offensive end he likes to get those multiple efforts,” Drew said. “It was just fitting for him to get two and one on the offensive end and it’s great that he finished it with an and-one.”
The Bears (14-4) went into the second half with their minds set on dunking. Gathers jammed home the final basket of Baylor’s key run, which put the Bears ahead 50-39 with 15:56 left. Baylor finished with 44 points in the paint.
“We wanted to crush them on the inside because we had the length, we had the size, and that was our advantage,” Gathers said. “If we were going to rely on 3-pointers, then it still would have been a close game throughout the game. So once we took advantage of the inside, it opened up everything for our outside shooters. And our outside shooters started hitting.”
Bears forward Taurean Prince scored 13 points and had six rebounds, and guard Al Freeman added 10 points and five assists.
Baylor rested usual starters guard Kenny Chery and forward Royce O’Neale.
Shai Fields led Huston-Tillotson with 27 points.
Huston-Tillotson (3-14) opened a nine-point lead in the first half as it began the game with more energy than the slightly stunned Bears.
Fields hit a 3-pointer to put the Rams ahead 23-14 with 13:12 left in the first half. At that point, Huston-Tillotson had made 9 of 14 shots from the field.
Fields made five 3-pointers in the first half as he scored 21 points and kept the Rams in front for almost the entire first 20 minutes. Fields’ 3-pointer with 4:51 left before the break put Huston-Tillotson up by seven.
“(Fields) transferred from Talladega (at semester) and now he’s over here playing for us,” Henderson said. “What a great Christmas gift that I got. He can score. He’s always been able to shoot like that since high school.”
Baylor closed the half on a 10-2 run and took the lead into halftime when Prince hit a 3-pointer from the left wing at the buzzer. That edged the Bears ahead 37-36.
Baylor dominated the Rams just about everywhere other than the scoreboard in the first 20 minutes. The Bears outrebounded Huston-Tillotson 29-18, scored 22 points in the paint to the Rams’ four, and Baylor even shot a better percentage from the field in the first half. However, Huston-Tillotson staked its first-half success on 7-of-15 shooting from beyond the arc and Baylor made just 3 of 13.
NOTES: Baylor was playing
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