There were a lot of satisfying bits and pieces to the Texas Longhorns running the Grand Canyon Antelopes out of the gym early and shutting the door behind them, but maybe the most satisfying was the incredibly anti-climactic feel of the game. Texas was up 26-11 at the under-12 timeout and Texas never let Grand Canyon even sniff a comeback. Shooting 68.8% from the field in the first half has a way of putting any ideas of a competitive game on ice, regardless of what the opponent is doing. The margin went from 15 at the under-12 to 26 at half to 38 at the final. That is the textbook definition of putting your boot on the opponent’s throat, and it’s nice to see Texas do that in a game.
The last two games have provided a small measure of relief for a basketball team that was teetering on a serious crisis; beating a fringe top-25 team then blowing out an opponent who has run with better teams than Texas are good signs of this squad’s mental fortitude. While Shaka Smart has his pros and cons, one thing his teams consistently do is respond well to adversity. Think back to how they handled Cameron Ridley’s injury, how they dealt with Andrew Jones battling leukemia, and how they responded to the three-game losing streak; Smart’s teams may create some of their own strife (like the losing streak) but they seem to invariably respond well to the strife. They need to build upon what they’ve done the past two games for them to demonstrate they’re taking the next step as a program, but it’s good to see some mental toughness with conference play looming.
There isn’t a lot to complain about in a game where Texas averaged 1.4 PPP; to give a sense of just how good an offensive performance this was, Texas jumped nearly 20 spots in adjusted offensive efficiency because of this game. They’re also up to 32.9% from three on the year, which is enough to keep opponents honest. Four players are shooting at least 33% from deep: Kerwin Roach II 33.9%, Matt Coleman 34.1%, Courtney Ramey 34.4%, and Jase Febres at 39.6%. Five players hit double figures in scoring, nobody played thirty minutes (birthday boy Elijah Mitrou-Long led the team with 28 minutes), Texas outrebounded Grand Canyon 42-25, and the team had twice as many assists as turnovers (22-11). Further, nearly 60% of the scores were assisted. Shout out to Courtney Ramey for logging 8 assists, BTW. You want to see how good the passing was tonight?
Don't mind me, I'm just going to watch the passing in this Texas possession on a loop for awhile. pic.twitter.com/t8FmwdRSyH— (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻ 791 (@Bitterwhiteguy) December 15, 2018
I had to fan myself for a moment after that possession.
It’s not just Febres going 4-10 from three, he made a ton of hustle plays all over the court. Every time I noticed Febres, it was because he was snagging a rebound or blocking a shot or forcing an Antelope into a tough shot. This kind of performance gets a bit drowned out in a blowout, but games like this from Febres will help so much in conference play.
One way to distort a defense is by using skip passes to take advantage of defenses sagging off the far side. Texas used more skip passes today than I can recall in any game this year, it was a deliberate strategy and it paid off quite a few times. Time will tell if this becomes a permanent thing, I would be happy to see a few more per game if they can avoid getting picked off.
Royce Hamm, Jr
Hamm hasn’t gotten many minutes this year (10 including this game if my math is right) but credit to him for staying engaged and busting his ass in garbage time. The game was well in hand when Hamm checked in and he still scored 7 points and showcased aggressiveness in the paint. He had more free throws than anyone else in the game, going 3-4 from the line. A guy like Hamm could be sitting on the bench and sulking, but he’s a good teammate and deserves a little shine.
Drayton Whiteside, Noted Ankle Breaker
You know it’s not your night when the walk-on puts you into an early grave.
The Less Good
It seems like Texas is...I don’t want to say faltering at turnovers because they’re still in the top 1⁄3 of D-I at avoiding turnovers on offense. Maybe it would be better to say that the larger sample size is developing to show Texas is good at taking care of the ball but not quite as good as the first few games demonstrated. It’s still a net-positive as they turn the ball over on 17.5% of possessions (101st nationally) and force turnovers on 21.2% of defensive possession (70th nationally), it just isn’t quite the game-changing difference it was earlier in the year.
Hepa didn’t score, got burned defensively a couple of times, and wasn’t in sync with the rest of the team. He can be better than this, and probably will be down the road. Shake it off and move onto the next game.
Jaxson Hayes’ Sophomore Campaign Chances
We’re firmly in Tristan Thompson territory here; Hayes is showing up in the top-50 of NBA draft boards and will only rise further with plays like this:
I started this season thinking Jericho Sims was likely to go pro after the year, but it seems more likely that Sims will be here as a junior and Hayes might be earning a paycheck in a few months. (I don’t have any inside info here, but the NBA is definitely noticing him.) Enjoy him while you can, and when you’re done maybe pray to whatever deity to which you subscribe.
The Radford game feels like it happened five years ago, but it better not be a distant memory for the players because Providence will be a solid test for the Longhorns. The Friars are without the services of their sharpshooting freshman AJ Reeves which will make a win in Austin harder for Ed Cooley’s squad, but Texas needs to come out focused or they will take an L against the Big East squad. The game is Friday, December 21st on ESPN2, tip time is 8 PM CT.
In other news, the women’s team has lost two straight to two top-ten teams in Mississippi State and Tennessee. They’re trying to reorganize without their leading scorer Lashan Higgs, and they’ve got a game to try to get right against Stetson tomorrow at noon on LHN.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by DJ Hype.