South Carolina-Baylor Preview
While Kenny Chery certainly has some big shoes to fill, he appeared to more than hold his own in his first game with Baylor.
Having replaced former star Pierre Jackson, Chery looks to build on his solid debut when the 23rd-ranked Bears take on South Carolina looking to win their eighth straight home opener Tuesday.
Jackson topped the Big 12 in scoring and assists last season and led Baylor to an NCAA regional final and NIT championship in his two years before moving on to pursue a professional career.
Following Jackson's departure, the Bears' attack has become centered on a pair of potential first-round NBA draft picks in forward Cory Jefferson and center Isaiah Austin. Jefferson averaged 13.3 points on 61.0 percent shooting and 8.0 rebounds, while Austin posted 13.0 and 8.3 in 2012-13.
After winning a six-player competition for the starting point guard job, Chery's most important task figures to be getting Jefferson and Austin the ball.
Still, the junior college transfer proved he might be able to handle some of the scoring as well with a team-high 14 points to go along with four assists and four rebounds in a season-opening 72-60 win over Colorado in Dallas on Friday.
"Try to be more of a vocal leader," Chery said. "Try to get Cory, Isaiah, everybody more touches. Just be a team guy."
Chery's effort helped make up for quiet openers for Jefferson and Austin. Jefferson finished with 13 points on 3-of-9 shooting and 11 rebounds, while Austin had five points and four boards.
Baylor also hopes to keep improving defensively after limiting the Buffaloes to 33.3 percent shooting - including 2 for 19 from beyond the arc.
"There were a lot of good possessions defensively," coach Scott Drew said. "But they were very good in transition and exploited us. We'll have something to work out right away with that."
The Bears haven't dropped a home opener since 2005-06, which happens to be the same season that South Carolina last won its first road game.
The Gamecocks, who have only won twice on the road over the past two seasons, are beginning a stretch of three of four away from home.
They're coming off a strong defensive effort in the opener, limiting visiting Longwood to 22.8 percent shooting while holding a 50-27 advantage on the glass in Saturday's 82-44 win.
Villanova transfer Tyrone Johnson had a career-high 18 points for the Gamecocks, who stormed out to a 37-15 lead at halftime. Freshman Sindarius Thornwell and senior Brenton Williams each added 14.
"It's not like (Johnson) has been in our system a long time so all of this is new to him too, but I am extremely happy with our guys," coach Frank Martin said.
Martin brought in Johnson and seven freshmen after last season's 14-18 mark. Williams led the Gamecocks in scoring last year with only 11.0 points per game.
Baylor's talented frontcourt, however, might have its hands full with Mindaugas Kacinas, who finished with eight points and a career-high 14 rebounds Saturday.
The Bears and Gamecocks have split four all-time meetings with each winning twice on the road.
In the most recent matchup in Waco on Jan. 2, 2009, the Gamecocks scored with 5.1 second left to come away with an 85-84 win over then-No. 19 Baylor. The Bears returned the favor a year later with an 85-74 victory at South Carolina.