WACO (AP) – Rico Gathers was concerned about rebounding going into No. 16 Baylor’s first game against Northwestern State in two years.
The burly senior forward took care of that — and the scoring, too.
Gathers had a career-high 31 points to go with 21 rebounds — the second 30-point, 20-rebound game in school history — and the Bears pulled away in the second half for a 75-62 victory against Northwestern State on Tuesday night.
“My sophomore year, they came here and dominated us on the boards,” Gathers said, referring to Baylor’s 91-84 overtime victory against the Southland Conference opponent in 2013. “And coach really made that an emphasis. So, of course, if you tell it to a rebounder like myself, I make sure I get the job done.”
Gathers was 12 of 20 from the field in his fourth consecutive double-double and had a season high in rebounds, although it was well short of his career high of 28 against Huston-Tillotson last January. Last season’s Big 12 rebounding leader had more by himself than the Demons, who were beaten on the glass 47-18.
The only other Baylor player with that many points and rebounds in the same game was Darrell Hardy, who had 40 points and 25 boards against Texas in 1966. Gathers’ previous scoring high was 25, also against Huston-Tillotson.
“He plays within himself extremely well,” Northwestern State coach Mike McConathy said. “So many times, players try to get outside who they are, and he is just very good at what he does.”
Taurean Prince, who scored 30 in a win over No. 21 Vanderbilt on Sunday, had 11 points and 13 rebounds in the 31st straight non-conference home win for the Bears (7-1).
Zeek Woodley scored 21 points for Northwestern State (1-7).
Baylor led 39-38 at halftime and 53-48 midway through the second half before an 11-2 run that included four points from Gathers and was capped by a three-point play from Prince.
Al Freeman had 15 points and the only 3-pointer for Baylor. He was 1 of 5 from long range, and the team was 1 of 13.
“They’re a tough team,” Freeman said “They make it a grind-out game. They’ve got guys like Zeek who can score. We knew what we were getting into, and they just played us tough.”
The Bears, who had been scoring just over 83 points a game, were held below their average thanks in part to Northwestern State’s slowdown game. The Demons ran the shot clock down to single digits on most possessions, a strategy McConathy adopted after left knee injuries to Jalan West, last season’s Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and Tra’von Joseph. West is out of the season.
“I’m sure none of the fans were really happy with the way we played, but I have to keep my job,” McConathy said.
“We’ve been on the other end of that where we’ve tried to go up and down the floor, and right now, we’re not in a position where we can do that.”
Gathers scored eight straight points to wipe out an 18-12 lead for Northwestern State in the first half. Neither team led by more than two for the last 10 minutes before halftime. Gathers had his double-double at halftime, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds before the break.
Northwestern State: Joseph injured his knee Nov. 25 and is expected to miss at least a month. … Devonte Hall had 12 points and led the Demons with eight assists and five rebounds. … Sabri Thompson had 11 points and seven assists.
Baylor: The Bears entered the game fourth nationally at 21.6 assists per game and finished with 19. Lester Medford had seven assists, and Ishmail Wainright added six.
Northwestern State hosts Missouri Valley on Dec. 19.
Baylor plays Hardin-Simmons on Dec. 16 at Fort Hood, about 60 miles south of Waco.
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