For Texas, it was a good thing college games are 40 minutes long rather than 34. For 34 minutes on Monday, Texas was even with the ULM Warhawks, a team 218 spots behind them in the Kenpom advanced metrics.
In the remaining six minutes, beginning after the second half under-12 media timeout, Texas took over with a 16-0 run. That run was enough for Texas to overcome a dismal shooting first half for the 65-55 victory, UT’s third of the season.
The past several seasons have not been banner shooting years for the Longhorns under head coach Shaka Smart, and the first half fit into that pattern. It wasn’t just jump shooting, either. Near the rim, mid-range, and from distance, Texas struggled mightily to put the ball into the basket.
In the first half, senior Kerwin Roach was 2-of-8, sophomore Jase Febres was 2-of-5, and freshman Jaxson Hayes was 2-of-4 with his misses coming around the rim. The looks were there for Texas, but the shots were not falling.
“Obviously, you want to make more shots,” head coach Shaka Smart said following a 42 percent night from the field. “I thought we took a lot more good shots tonight than we did against Arkansas. I can only think of two or three that were ill-advised. There was a couple late-clock situations where guys had to get a shot up, but we’re obviously a work in progress in a lot of ways.”
The bright spot in the first 20 minutes for the Longhorns, who took a 30-29 lead into halftime, was the defense. Smart’s full-court press was effective against the Warhawks, including creating another 10-second violation. Texas also created nine turnovers in the first half.
That defensive pressure continued in the second half, but the only result the Longhorns got out of that defensive pressure was the continued trading of scores until the under-12 timeout. That’s when Texas took over the game.
“It was obviously a quiet Erwin Center tonight,” senior Dylan Osetkowski said. “Not too many fans there. (Smart’s) message to us was to find our own energy.”
Heading into the timeout, junior Elijah Mitrou-Long nailed a three. ULM missed a jumper, and senior Kerwin Roach landed a long two to extend the Texas lead to five.
The Texas lead would sit at five for almost three minutes before Roach threw down a putback dunk on the fast break. Texas got another stop, and Osetkowski put the ball up and in through a foul to extend the lead to nine, and completed the three point play to make it double-digits.
ULM’s cold streak continued, and Texas scored on three straight possessions around the rim to take a 16-point lead with six and a half to play.
“We just let our hair loose,” Mitrou-Long said of the run. “The ball went our way, and our defense really triggered our offense.”
From that point on, the game returned to the back and forth affair it was during the first 20 minutes with neither team playing effective offense. Though ULM cut the lead to 10, they never pushed the pace or fouled to try and get back into the game, and Texas earned its third victory of the young season.
Roach lead Texas in scoring with thirteen points while adding six assists and four rebounds. Osetkowski recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards, while Hayes was the third Longhorn in double figures with 11 on 5-of-8 shooting.
As opposed to last year, Texas’ created shots through offense rather than forcing shots after dribbling down most of the shot clock. In a continuing trend from last year, Texas struggled putting the ball in the basket for extended stretches.
Despite struggling from the field, Texas still wants to be aggressive in its shooting. That was reflected in their continued effort in putting the ball up.
“I think we all have confidence in each other,” Mitrou-Long said on shooting. “We always, in practice, if someone doesn’t shoot an open shot, coach will blow the whistle. ‘Shoot that shot.’”
The Longhorns also believe they are a team still trying to figure out exactly who they are and what they can be.
“I told our team after the game it’s one of those teams that who we’re going to be, we’re still moving towards that,” Smart said. “It’s also the time of year where everyone’s finding themselves.”
Texas plays The Citadel at home Friday.