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Shooting From the Corner: Texas 71, Eastern Illinois 59

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Eastern Illinois v Texas Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images

Ahhh yes, welcome back everybody. Texas Longhorns basketball is back, this time fighting against the Eastern Illinois ...uhh, let’s say Panthers. Holy crap that’s right; I officially have one more unlikely win than Beto tonight. Too soon? Yep, too soon. OK.

The first game of any season is always a bit of a guessing game; yes, the Panthers are terrible, and yes Texas should win, but the combination of new pieces seeing their first action in front of a crowd of dozens of semi-excited Texas fans and veterans trying to make things click can lead to some unnecessarily tight scores early on. That’s precisely what happened, as Texas players were bypassing open shots to run the offense a step further than necessary and the defense was a bit of a work in progress early on. It wasn’t until about 15 minutes into the game that Texas players remembered they’re Texas and that they were playing Eastern Illinois when the game started to resemble the expected outcome. This is an argument for playing a patsy at the start of the season, you get a chance to knock off the rust without really impacting your win probability. So what did we see once Texas got their feet under themselves? Faster pace, an emphasis on pushing the ball up the court, and better ball movement than Texas showcased most of last season. Let’s get to it.

The Good

Ball Movement

Kerwin Roach II wasn’t on the floor and three Texas guards still tallied 20 assists on the night. Do you want to know how many games the team combined for 20+ assists last season? One, Northwestern State. Texas won that game 105-59, which means Texas got nearly as many assists in a 71 point effort as they did in a 105 point effort last year. I bring this up to point out how many more made baskets were assisted this game than any last year. It’s only one game so the small sample size is an issue, but it’s still nice to see even once.

Elijah Mitrou-Long

I wrote in the season preview that I thought Long might see less time this year due to the depth of the team, and while that still may be the case as the season progresses, Long definitely showed off his skills in this game. 9 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, and three steals showed some sliver of what Long is capable of contributing when deployed against the right opponents. His anticipation on both ends of the floor was good, his dribbling in traffic is above-average, he has good defensive recognition - if you could put his awareness in a body like Roach’s he’d be a shutdown defender - and when he sets his feet he shoots well from distance. I will wait to see if what he does against Eastern Illinois translates against the North Carolina and Kansas high-major teams, but he may end up stealing more minutes than I initially imagined.

Matt Coleman

3-4 from inside the arc, 2-5 from outside the arc, made his free throw, snagged two steals, and dished out 7 assists to only two turnovers. I mean, what more do you want out of a point guard? Efficiency, thy name is Coleman. I don’t have anything witty to say here, I’m going to spend the rest of this paragraph marinating on the luxury of having a guy like Coleman running point.

Go ahead, talk among yourselves.

Nope, still marinating.

OK, let’s move on.

Andrew Jones

The box score is unimportant, the fact this young man is on the court at all is incredible. Congratulations to Andrew, his family, and everyone in his orbit, this is a hell of a comeback story.

The Mixed Bag

Jaxson Hayes

Hayes showcased both the tantalizing potential and the frustrating deficiencies of a freshman tonight. His pair of blocks were highlight reel-worthy and his hands in transition are impressive for someone his age. The problem is he’s still rail-thin and can get pushed out of the paint by more posts than you might expect. This is the limiting factor for him this year, or at least what the coaches will need to gameplan around if they want Hayes to see the court for more than a few minutes per game. He’s enticing in transition, but in conference play it’s how he will fare in the low post that will dictate his usefulness. If he’s getting pushed out of the paint by Eastern Illinois, Udoka Azubuike will plant him somewhere in Round Rock. I like his long-term trajectory, but let’s not get carried away with what he provides this season just yet.

Jericho Sims

Buddy, you’re the most likely player on this floor to be in the NBA in the next 2-3 years. You need to rebound like you’re capable of rebounding, establish position like you’re capable of establishing. Your two offensive rebounds is decent, but not great and definitely not enough to offset four turnovers and four fouls.

Jase Febres

Febres still has issues getting lost on defense and he turns his shoulder too easily, which results in less “defense” and more “escorting the opponent to the rim”. Having said that, he hit 3-6 from three and if he’s going to continue to find the open spots from deep and hit those open shots, he’ll have a home in the rotation. The ball looks pretty pure when it leaves his hand and that is a skill Texas needs as much as anything.

The Bad

Free Throws

11-20 is bad, but it’s worse when Febres goes 0-1 and Courtney Ramey goes 3-6. We expect a free throw adventure from the bigs - especially Jericho Sims who is literally shooting with a different hand than last year - but the guys who can shoot a decent three need to shoot a decent free throw.

The final score is closer than the game was for most of the second half, fret not about the final margin. The difficulty gets kicked up a notch this Friday when Texas travels to Fort Bliss to play Arkansas. Tip time is 6 PM CT on ESPN.

BWG’s writing tunes provided by Chris Liebing.