There was one major reason Baylor assistant Jerome Tang didn’t feel nervous when he slid over into the head coach’s chair for the Bears’ Big 12 Conference opener against Texas on Saturday.
“As long as we had Pierre Jackson,” Tang said, “I was extremely confident.”
Baylor coach Scott Drew missed Saturday’s game while serving a suspension stemming from NCAA violations committed by the school. He will not make the trip when Baylor visits Texas Tech at 6 p.m. today inside United Spirit Arena, the Big 12 home opener for the Red Raiders (8-4, 1-0).
Luckily for Tang, the Bears (9-4, 1-0) won’t be without Jackson, their senior point guard, who was named the preseason conference player of the year and has looked every bit the part so far this season. His 19.9 points per game are by far the most in the Big 12, he ranks second in the league in assists (6.23) and he’s come up big when Baylor needs him most.
Against Texas, Jackson scored 11 of his 24 points in overtime.
“I think he’s a professional player,” Tech coach Chris Walker said. “He can dribble, pass, shoot. He plays unselfishly. I just think that guys like him are very difficult to stop. All you can do with that situation is try to slow him down the best you can.”
The Red Raiders passed their first test of limiting opposing guards with flying colors. Tech on Saturday blanketed TCU’s top scorers, Kyan Anderson and Garlon Green, who combined to shoot a miserable 3 of 22 from the floor.
Tech knows Jackson’s game presents a stiffer challenge. Not only is he one of the league’s most talented scorers, but he also has no shortage of impact players who benefit from the offense he can create. Isaiah Anderson, a 7-foot-1 freshman from Arlington, is averaging about 15 points and nine rebounds; forward Cory Jefferson is also averaging a near double-double, and guard Brady Heslip can be one of the conference’s top shooters from long range when he’s in rhythm.
But all of that action starts and ends with Jackson.
“Pierre is one of those special players,” Walker said. “You’re not going to steal the ball from him. He’s going to make plays. You can’t go through a game and not expect him to make a lot of plays, because that’s why he’s preseason player of the year. He’s proved his valor and he’s done those things. All we can do is tell our guys to follow the game plan, not take it as a personal challenge. We play him as a team. If he makes a couple of shots, let’s stay together.”
Tech’s guard play has increased steadily as the season has progressed, particularly during the current three-game winning streak. Dusty Hannahs has thrived in the starting lineup, averaging 12.5 points per game in the last four. He is second in the Big 12 in 3-point shooting at 46.5 percent.
Josh Gray, meanwhile, has become far more efficient by improving his shot selection, looking to attack the rim and settling for fewer contested jumpers. Trency Jackson has showed signs of being the kind of perimeter defender the staff hoped he could become when recruited, and he and Daylen Robinson have seemed to settle better into their roles as distributors during the recent win streak.
Tech will need that whole unit playing at its best if it hopes to combat one of the nation’s best point guards and the high scoring offense he directs — Baylor is second in the league in scoring at 78.4 points per game; Tech is fourth at 75.2.
Their confidence brimming after an early road win, the Red Raiders certainly seem eager for the challenge.
“I’ve been waiting on this game since I committed to Tech,” Gray said during a radio interview Monday. “I’ve been looking forward to playing against Pierre Jackson. I can’t wait.”
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