Baylor basketball - Royce O'Neale

Former Harker Heights star Royce O’Neale has made 32 starts this season and is averaging 10.1 points, 3.4 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game.

Rod Aydelotte

For the second consecutive season, former Harker Heights star Royce O’Neale and the Baylor Bears will head west.

Baylor (24-9) opens the NCAA Tournament West bracket play today when it takes on the Georgia State Panthers (24-9) in a second-round contest at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla.

“We were really excited,” O’Neale said.

“Just the fact that our name was called and that we were up there. No matter where we were playing at, we just want to play some more.”

The third-seeded Bears and 14th-seeded Panthers tip off at 12:40 p.m. and the game will be televised on TBS.

This will be the first time Baylor and Georgia State meet in men’s basketball The Bears are making consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in school history, and it is Baylor’s sixth NCAA appearance in the modern era.

Last season, the Bears went from being a bubble team to a No. 8 seed in The Big Dance where they were placed into the West bracket. Baylor beat Nebraska and Creighton in San Antonio before falling to eventual Final Four participant Wisconsin in the Sweet 16.

“They’re really fun,” O’Neale said about NCAA Tournament games. “You just have a good time

playing basketball with your team. You just got to get hot at the right time. That’s what we did last year and this year, too.”

O’Neale has made 32 starts this season and is averaging 10.1 points, 3.4 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game. The senior forward is Baylor’s leader in 3-point field goal percentage shooting .434 (46 of 106) from beyond the arc.

O’Neale said he is ready for this final run at Baylor and hopes it’ll be an extended postseason.

“I’m really excited and blessed to have this opportunity to represent Baylor and go back to the NCAA Tournament,” O’Neale said.

O’Neale averaged 8.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, and a team-best 3.6 assists over seven postseason games between the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments last season.

He is in his second season as a Bear after playing for Denver as a freshman and sophomore. O’Neale has has 1,259 points, 788 rebounds, 397 assists, 160 steals and 45 blocks in 133 collegiate games.

He is the only Big 12 player to rank in the conference’s Top 15 in rebounding and assists.

Before becoming a star in the Big 12, O’Neale made a name for himself at Harker Heights where he helped the Knights make the regional quarterfinals as a senior during the 2010-11 season.

The Bears didn’t have to wait until March to see tough opponents. Baylor went 11-7 in the Big 12 and made it to the conference tournament semifinals.

Playing in the conference with the top RPI in the nation meant quality regular season matchups that should help this time of year.

“We’re pleased on how the Big 12 was able to do getting 70 percent of the league into the tournament,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “Now we know once we’re in the tournament, anyone can be successful.’

Seven teams from the Big 12 made it into the NCAA Tournament, and the season’s final Associated Press poll featured No. 9 Iowa State, No. 10 Kansas, No. 13 Oklahoma, No. 16 Baylor and No. 20 West Virginia.

Contact Albert Alvarado at alvarado@kdhnews.com

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