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Texas basketball returned to the hardcourt Wednesday for the first time since being pulled off the floor of the 2020 Big 12 Tournament. Twelve players who made that truncated trip to Kansas City returned for the 2020-21 season, beginning their 27-game campaign with a 91-55 win over UT-Rio Grande Valley.
Five Longhorns reached double-digit scoring marks, with junior Courtney Ramey leading all scorers with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Freshman Greg Brown III, the lone addition to this season’s roster, scored 11 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, and unleashed a thunderous dunk in his Texas debut.
The Longhorns never trailed throughout the contest and the 36-point margin at the end of the game served as their largest lead. The Vaqueros cut the Texas lead to nine with two minutes remaining in the first half, but Smart’s team surged with seven straight points from Ramey, senior Royce Hamm, and junior Gerald Liddell to enter halftime up 16.
The margin hovered around 20 for most of the second half before the Longhorns poured it on with under seven minutes remaining.
Shooting struggles were the story of the Vaqueros’ evening. RGV was a putrid 8-of-34 from the field in the first half, and barely improved in the second 20 minutes with a 10-for-35 mark. Meanwhile, Texas shot 57 percent from the field and 41 percent from deep for the game, even without junior Andrew Jones.
Jones was ruled out of Wednesdays’ game for precautionary reasons after displaying a cough following morning shootaround.
“Andrew had a cough, but the way it works now with the COVID protocols is if you have certain symptoms, you have to be held out,” Smart said. “He was negative on a COVID test yesterday.”
Another guard needed to step up in Jones’ place, and that’s exactly what Ramey did. The junior scored 20 points, brought down five rebounds, and added six assists.
“Our biggest thing was being us and being the best that we can,” Ramey said.
Although Andrew Jones was not at the Erwin Center, sophomore Kai Jones was. The Bahamian big man made an impact early in the game when he ran the floor and converted several lob opportunities.
Kai Jones explained following the game he remained in Orlando, FL for some time after the 2019-20 season was cancelled and had goals of improving his violence at the basket, getting to the rim, catch-and-shoot three-point shots, and rebounding.
“I’m going to continue repping those and working on those, and getting in the gym more and more,” Jones said.
A team with so many returning players does create competition for minutes, as junior Kamaka Hepa and sophomore Will Baker found out. But the one new guy, Brown III, performed well in his Longhorn debut.
In addition to his rim-rattling dunk, Brown III recorded a double-double. His shooting was not hot to start, going 2-of-9 from the field and 0-of-3 from three-point territory, but his athleticism was on display several times Wednesday and not just when he dunked over a RGV defender. Still, Smart sees room for growth for the Vandegrift High School product.
“For him to not play very well and get a double-double is a good sign because he can play much, much better,” Smart said.
The Longhorns now travel to Asheville, NC to compete in a contiguous United States edition of the Maui Invitational. Texas plays Davidson on Monday, and could then play Indiana or Providence depending on the result.
“One game at a time,” Ramey said. “What we talked about in the summertime was winning as many championships as we can, and this is our first opportunity to win a championship. That’d be a great resume builder, to go out there, play well, and get a championship out there.”
“I think we play three games potentially,” Ramey continued. “So go out there and win three in a row, then we can just carry that over to coming back home. It’s going to help us have momentum for the Big 12, which is a great league.”
Cover photo courtesy of Texas Athletics