Despite some early jet lag, the Texas Longhorns beat the Rice Owls 77-56 Sunday in Austin.
After an early lead, the Horns (5-1) spent much of the first half playing cat-and-mouse with the Owls (2-4). Texas surrendered the lead twice before Justin Mason dropped a three with six seconds left in the first half to give the Horns a seven-point lead as they headed to the locker room. An 8-3 run at the start of the second half opened up a 15-point lead by Texas and finally threw the Owls off their scent.
“It was tough coming back but we can’t use that as an excuse,” Mason said. “There were plenty of teams out in Maui and I don’t think any of them are going to use it as an excuse for anything.”
Over Thanksgiving the Longhorns traveled to Hawaii to participate in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. The Horns went 2-1 with a one-point loss to No. 8 Notre Dame and wins over St. Josephs and Oregon.
“This was a good chance to prove ourselves today and I think we were more aggressive than last game,” said sophomore guard Dogus Balbay. “I think we did a better job today.”
Long trip or not, Coach Barnes prefers reasons over excuses.
“We didn’t rotate in the first half. When we were doubling the ball screen we weren’t getting the backside rotation,” said Barnes. “We didn’t do a good job moving the ball and moving bodies to get rebounds.”
After the half, Barnes got his players to pick up the tempo, set screens and get their head in the game.
“Coach told us we had too many mental breakdowns and…we weren’t executing,” Mason said. “I think our mentality changed for the second half.”
Mason led the Longhorns with 14 points and went 4-for-10 from the field. Gary Johnson pulled down eight boards. Sophomore guard Dogus Balbay logged career-high numbers with four assists and four steals. Collectively, Texas hit 18-of-24 from the free throw line and 5-of-16 from beyond the arc.
The Horns cooled down from 56 percent at halftime to average 49 percent shooting. The Owls were held to 33.3 percent from the field but out-shot the Horns in threes, hitting 32 percent.
Sophomore Alexis Wangmene missed the game due to a right knee injury.
Now the Horns focus on taking down the UCLA Bruins in its Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series game in Austin. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Thursday. The broadcast will be on ESPN2.