Texas head coach Shaka Smart entered this season with high expectations. Friday’s season opener against the Northwestern State Demons gave him an opportunity to see if his young, talented team could live up to those expectations.
First returns proved very positive, as Texas cruised past the Demons, 105-59. Seven players were in double figures for the Longhorns including junior Dylan Osetkowski, who recorded a 13 point, 10 rebound double-double in his first career game. Freshman Mohamed Bamba led all scorers with 15 points and added 8 boards, while sophomore Andrew Jones added 14 points in a blowout victory.
“Still have a long way to go and a lot of things to improve on,” Smart said. “I thought our guys shared the ball, for the most part, really well. To have 23 assists is a good thing. I thought Mo and Dylan, as a twosome, gave us a great spark early with the way that they played, the way they rebounded. To get our guards attacking downhill was really good.”
Texas scored first when Bamba grabbed a put back dunk after 51 seconds had gone off the clock. Over the next five minutes, the Longhorns quickly proved they were the superior team, jumping out to an early 17-4 lead.
“Whenever you can start off with a dunk as your first play, it really pumps everyone up,” Bamba said. “I think we got a stop the next play.”
From the under-16 timeout to the under-12, the Longhorns’ press defense stifled any Demon offensive effort, and Texas jumped to a 15 point lead it would only build on.
“I thought our guys for the most part played unselfishly,” Smart said. “The game gets done, and now it’s easy to compare who scored what, who played what. Depth can be a really good advantage for us. It can be a positive if we have some guys that are willing to play roles and come in the game and play their butts off in terms of effort knowing that we’ve got other guys coming in for them.”
Once it became apparent Texas would run away with the season opener, Smart began to rotate some of his younger contributors into the game. Freshmen Royce Hamm, Jase Febres and Jericho Sims received valuable experience, with Febres shooting 3-of-7 from deep on his way to 13 points.
The teams exited halftime with the Longhorns holding a 35 point lead. The second half was more evenly matched, with Texas only outscoring the Demons by 9, but the original deficit was insurmountable and Texas cruised to 105 points. The bucket that put them over the century mark came by way of an emphatic dunk by sophomore Jacob Young.
Freshman point guard Matt Coleman’s debut went as well as a Texas debut could go. He finished the evening with 11 points and 7 assists plus zero turnovers, though Smart claimed in the postgame press conference he should have had one.
Jones slashed his way to the basket several times, including one where he had a powerful dunk as he drove past a defender. Jones, as well as Roach, looked much more comfortable off the ball thanks to Coleman’s presence.
“I basically told him to do what got you here,” Jones said about Coleman. “Do what you did in high school and just improve on it. He worked his butt off throughout the summer and he learned in Australia to take care of the ball and find guys in open spots. Everything flowed through the offense. He did a great job facilitating the ball today, and also taking care of it.”
The attraction this season undoubtedly is Bamba. He made up half of Texas’ blocked shot total by himself with his four swats. On offense, two-handed flushes looked as easy as placing a dish on the top shelf.
However, despite his skill, some things about the college game surprised Bamba such as when NWST ran some sets the Longhorns were not expecting. Bamba later settled in and played in a way that showed he wanted to take Texas on a deep run.
“We are coming out and our message is we have something to prove,” Bamba said. “Last year wasn’t the greatest year for us, and I’m saying us because I was a part of that, too. We’re coming out here with something to prove. We’re letting our play do the talking.”
Bamba’s play does a lot of talking, but Smart revealed just how special the New York native can be later in his career.
“He’s still so far from where he can be as a player,” Smart said about Bamba. “That’s the exciting thing. We won’t see the best version of Mo this year. That’s way down the line, but we can see a really good version. I thought tonight was a precursor of that.”
Texas’ point guard made plenty of nice plays on Friday, but its point forward, Osetkowski, facilitated the offense in a way the Longhorns have been searching for since Smart got to Texas.
“I’m just trying to bring a level of hustle, sprit, everything, rebounding,” Osetkowski said. “My ability to shoot the ball is only going to get better from here. That will space the floor out and make the team better overall.”
Texas’ welcomes New Hampshire on Tuesday as part of the PK80 tournament. Although the second game is a few days ahead, Smart’s players checked a lot of boxes in game one.
“I think the guys enjoyed the competition and the opportunity to come out and compete in a game,” Smart said. “We haven’t done that since March 9. I speak for our guys when I say we were really appreciative of our students. Students were great tonight, gave us really good energy early, and our guys were having a lot of fun.”
At the very end of his postgame availability, Smart took the time to thank the armed services ahead of Veteran’s Day.
“Really appreciative of Kevin Durant,” Smart said. “Our guys, I don’t know if you saw the shoes they were wearing, but it was a special issue KD shoe for Veteran’s Day. It causes you to have a little bit of a pause when you think about the greater context of what today means. We’re really appreciative of the people that serve this country.”