WACO, Texas - Season openers can be dicey affairs, unless the opponent is a certified cupcake. Baylor started the 2012-13 season Friday by playing Lehigh a foe that fulfills requirements for healthy caloric intake. Last season, the Mountain Hawks stunned No. 2 seed Duke in the NCAA Tournament.
The 18th-ranked Bears, faced with replacing last season's super-sized front court, proved that they have talented replacements and that they could handle the challenge of facing a quality foe. Baylor got career highs in points (26) and rebounds (13) from Cory Jefferson in a 99-77 victory Friday in the Ferrell Center.
Isaiah Austin, a 7-1 freshman, scored 22 points in 17 minutes. His final points came on a strong low post move but he sprained his right ankle with 16:16 remaining in the second half, bringing the crowd of 6,568 to silence. He didn't play again but he returned to the bench late in the game.
"Our young guys came to play," said Baylor senior point guard Pierre Jackson, who finished with 14 points and 12 assists. "I think we played great as a team. Our bigs were catching and scoring. Cory looked amazing and Isaiah was great before he got hurt."
Jefferson, a 6-9 junior, spent two years playing behind Quincy Acy and last season behind Acy, Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller, was happy to get his opportunity.
"I've been waiting for a while and this is definitely something good to start with," said Jefferson, who had nine dunks. "I credit having a great point guard like Pierre and the other guys. After every pass I told 'em 'thank you.'"
Lehigh was playing without 6-9 senior forward Gabe Knutson. Senior guard C.J. McCollum hoisted 32 shots and scored 36 points in 38 minutes. The Mountain Hawks had no problem playing at the Bears' frenetic pace that produced a game of spurts. Even for a season opener, Baylor had more positive than negative runs.
McCollum started the game making two technical foul shots - Baylor was penalized for dunking in pre-game warm ups. The Bears quickly took control, erasing an early 7-4 deficit on a Jefferson dunk and an Austin 3-pointer. The Mountain Hawks, with McCollum scoring 15 of their last 26 points in the first half, trailed 51-41 at halftime.
Any question about Lehigh making Baylor nervous was answered in the first four minutes of the second half. Jackson's 3-pointer at 15:49 made it 64-56. The Bears' largest lead was 77-54 with 11:03 remaining.
"When you play a quality opponent and you've got so many young guys playing, you don't know what you're going to get until the lights come on," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "We're really pleased with how it turned out."