FORT HOOD, Texas -- Baylor men's basketball took on Hardin-Simmons University at Abrams Physical Fitness Center here, Dec. 16, in front of a crowd of 2,000 Soldiers and military Families.
The nationally-ranked No. 16 Bears (8-1) out of Waco took down the Cowboys (6-5) from Abilene, 104-59. But for the participants, the game meant much more than the final score.
"Our team can't thank the Soldiers and the Families enough for all that they do for our country,"
Baylor head coach Scott Drew said following the game. "This night was about having an opportunity to say thank you and hopefully give them a couple of hours of entertainment."
Drew also talked about how the NCAA will often play games at overseas military installations early in the season, but it doesn't play enough games at installations on home soil.
"For us having the chance to play here really meant a lot for our guys," he said.
Drew said he thought Hardin-Simmons "did a great job moving the ball and spreading us out" to shoot 3-pointers at the beginning of the game.
"First and foremost, I wanted to make sure we played hard for the Families and Soldiers watching," Drew said. Over the course of the 40 minutes of play, each player on the Baylor roster had playing time in the game.
Baylor is used to playing in front of more than 10,000 fans in packed basketball arenas in the Big 12 and at other NCAA Division I schools, so playing at Abrams in front of 2,000 fans had a "high school" feel to it, Drew said.
"Our players, they thought it was like back in high school days," he said. "They were all fired up."
"It was an exciting feeling at the beginning knowing that we were going out there and giving our best effort for the Soldiers as they do for us and our country," Baylor senior forward Rico Gathers said.
Fort Hood Garrison Commander Col. Todd Fox said being able to host a college-level basketball game was an incredible opportunity for Fort Hood.
"This is our first NCAA game and when you get a top 20 team like Baylor to come play at Fort Hood, it's a pretty significant event," he said. "I know it means a lot to our Families and our service members and it's a great way to honor the sacrifice of their Soldiers."
The game started slow for the Bears before they picked up the tempo and gained a wider lead with the help of a few slam dunks by Gathers and redshirt sophomore forward Johnathan Motley.
With just 1.5 seconds left on the clock, the ball was passed inbounds to Gathers, who sent Baylor into halftime with a hard slam dunk to lead 32-27.
The Bears pulled away from the Cowboys even further in the second half, leading by more than 20 points most of the half before ending the game 104-59.
Motley came off the bench and was Baylor's leading scorer for the night with 23 points, nearly making a double-double with nine rebounds. Gathers gathered up 20 points and six boards. Senior point guard Lester Medford had 13 assists in the game. By the end of the game, the bench scored half the total points for Baylor at 52.
Baylor University Athletics and Fort Hood have a long history of working together. Robert Griffin III and Corey Jefferson are two well-known former Baylor athletes whose parents were stationed at Fort Hood. The installation often hosts Baylor athletic teams for training camps and workouts and Baylor often invites Soldiers from Fort Hood to honor during military appreciation games.
"Baylor is an incredible partner because they serve as a great role model for our Soldiers and our Families," Fox said. "At the end of the day, Baylor and the Army share a lot of common values, so being able to work together on events like this … it's just a great opportunity, so we continue to expand those and look for more opportunities in the future."
Hardin-Simmons head coach Craig Carse commended Drew and Baylor for giving up one of their home games to play at Fort Hood because they're sacrificing the revenue from home ticket sales. He also said he felt privileged that his team was able to play the game, as well.
"This was a tremendous privilege and honor that we were invited to be part of this event tonight," he said.
"It was a great honor for a small Division III school to have this opportunity," he added.
Before the game, players from Hardin-Simmons received a tour through the installation and had the opportunity to try out a tank simulator, junior center Justin Jones said.
On Dec. 12, Drew brought his staff to Fort Hood to host a youth basketball camp. La'Nydia Morgan, 8, went to the camp and was excited to watch her first college basketball game four days later. During the game, 8-year-old said her favorite part of the game was when Gathers "dunked the ball really hard" in the first half.