Forty-five minutes before the Texas Longhorns were set to take on the New Hampshire Wildcats, Texas announced that freshman center Mohamed Bamba would miss Tuesday’s game after suffering a concussion on Sunday. As a result, Texas head coach Shaka Smart had to insert a different freshman, Jericho Sims, into the starting lineup.
With Sims on the floor, Texas did not miss much of a beat. The Longhorns dealt with the change well, putting defensive pressure on the Wildcats at the end of the first half while at the same time extending their lead. Five Longhorns were in double figures, with junior Dylan Osetkowski posting a game high 17 points and 14 rebounds to lead Texas to a 78-60 win.
Smart told the media postgame he learned Monday Bamba would not be available for the game against the Wildcats. Smart informed Sims he was starting, and Sims used his opportunity to record an 8 point, 4 rebound, and 3 block performance over 21 minutes.
“I told Jericho you were starting yesterday,” Smart said. “He didn’t really have much of a reaction (laughs). But he’s excited. This is all so new to him. He’s probably, of all of our freshman, had the biggest jump in terms of level of competition, night in and night out, compared to what he saw last year. You see some glimpses of what he can do out there.”
Sims stepped in along with other experienced players in the starting lineup like Osetkowski, sophomore Andrew Jones, and junior Kerwin Roach. The Wildcats kept the game close for the first quarter of the game, but a strong defensive series from Sims culminating with an alley-oop gave Texas momentum they would ride to the end of the first half.
Texas decided to press in the later stages of the first half, and New Hampshire was able to move the ball through Texas’ full-court diamond press. They were not as successful at moving through Texas’ half-court pressure and 2-3 zone, finishing the first half with seven turnovers to Texas’ one. Texas scored 14 points off of those turnovers, while UNH scored no points off turnovers.
“They had a good attack against it,” Smart said about UNH’s approach to the press. “I thought it was decent to get the tempo going at times. I told the guys in shoot around that if you guys want to press, you can be really effective with it. You’ve got to put everything you have into it.”
The defense helped Texas go from a 29-23 lead with just under four minutes remaining to a 39-25 halftime lead Texas would not look back from. Osetkowski had a strong 12 points in the first 20 minutes, but he was helped by good halves from Roach and Jones.
Texas kept their 15-to-20 point lead for most of the second half. There were some periods in which Texas’ play was sloppy, but they were never in danger of relinquishing control of the game. Sophomore Jacob Young began the second half with zero points, but shot well from the field at 4-for-7 from the field and 3-of-5 from deep for 11 points. Junior Eric Davis doubled his minutes from the season opener, also reaching double figures with 11 points.
Jones and Roach rounded out the strong night on the score sheet for the Longhorns with 16 for the sophomore and 12 for the junior.
In the big picture, this game likely does not mean a whole lot. New Hampshire is a quality team in the America East conference, having reached 19 wins each of the last two years. The Wildcats weren’t the true test; that was playing without Bamba. Tonight, Texas passed that part of the exam.
“I’m always intrigued to see how guys handle reality,” Smart said. “Without Mo practicing yesterday and playing today, that was our reality coming into this game. There’s no sense in us hanging our head or getting down or folding up the tent. Our team is about more than one player. Mo is a big, big piece of it. He’s a guy we want to have out there. He’s an important part of our attack on both ends.”
Texas pulled away in this game because of the strong defensive stretch it played at the end of the first half. The defense pleased Smart, but the offense left more to be desired.
“We hit a couple stretches in the first half where I thought we defended really, really well,” Smart said. “That allowed us to build a lead, but we’ve got to be way more consistent with that. We didn’t shoot the ball great tonight partly because the ball I think stuck too much, but that’s something we’ve got to keep working on.”
Although the ball may have stuck, Texas still outperformed New Hampshire in every major category save for offensive rebounds and free throw percentage. There are still some areas the Longhorns can improve on, but Smart’s message to his team after the game was simple.
“Want more,” Davis said after the game. “Continue to get better. Winning is good, but be greedy. You can never be too greedy about winning.”
Texas’ next match-up is this Saturday against Lipscomb at 4 p.m.