Baylor didn’t face much difficulty in winning its first five games without its best player.
With Perry Jones III back on the court, the No. 7 Bears look all the more like one of the top teams in the country.
In its first true non-conference road game in nearly two years, Baylor faces fellow unbeaten Northwestern on Sunday.
Jones, the preseason Big 12 player of the year, sat out the first five games to complete an NCAA suspension for accepting improper benefits prior to arriving at Baylor. While the Bears outscored opponents by an average of 18.6 points with Jones sidelined, they posted their most lopsided victory of the season with the star sophomore back in action Tuesday.
Jones averaged 13.9 points as a freshman and nearly doubled that in his season debut, tying a career high with 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting as Baylor (6-0) beat Prairie View A&M 90-54.
“It’s always good to have the young fella playing with me,” said senior Quincy Acy, who had 13 points and 11 rebounds for his second double-double in as many games. “He brings a different dimension to the game. He just changes the game in so many different ways.”
The Bears, enjoying the highest ranking in program history, are looking to post a second straight 7-0 start for the first time.
Northwestern (7-0) finds itself on the verge of matching last season’s 8-0 start and could be Baylor’s biggest test to date.
The Wildcats are coming off a 92-67 rout of Mississippi Valley State on Friday, matching a school record with 20 3-pointers. Northwestern led by 38 at halftime.
Senior John Shurna, leading the Big Ten with 20.0 points per game, finished with a season-low nine after spending the entire second half on the bench getting some much-deserved rest. Fellow starters Dave Sobolewski, Drew Crawford and Luka Mirkovic also sat out the final 20 minutes and figure to have fresh legs for Sunday’s matchup.
“(Baylor is) a big team, well-coached. But we’ve played some big teams,” coach Bill Carmody said. ” … I think we will be all right.”
The Wildcats, averaging just 8.9 turnovers per game, could have their hands full with a Bears defense forcing 19.3 per game - best in the Big 12.
Baylor is likely to be at full strength for the first time this season with prized freshman Quincy Miller expected to be active. The 6-foot-9 forward, averaging 15.2 points and 5.6 rebounds, was held out Tuesday after rolling his left ankle in practice last weekend.
The Bears last faced a non-conference opponent on the road Jan. 2, 2010, when they defeated South Carolina 85-74. Baylor has won seven straight such contests.
The Wildcats, winners of five in a row at home, have dropped 12 consecutive matchups versus ranked opponents by an average of 12.5 points. They have been held to 39.8 percent shooting and outrebounded 422-310 during that skid.
Northwestern has limited teams to 63.0 points per game and 28.5 percent from beyond the arc, but should be tested by a Bears offense averaging 80.2 points and 40.6 percent 3-point shooting.
Sunday marks the first meeting between these teams.