AUSTIN — Despite not playing the best offensive game through the first 27 minutes, the Texas Longhorns’ high-effort defense and just-enough offense gave Shaka Smart’s team a double-digit cushion that looked to be enough to help cruise to a victory over the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. But Eric Konkol’s team began to make a run midway through the second half, and foul trouble turned that just-enough offense into not enough, cutting the lead to four.
Texas’ post players would make sure the Longhorns absorbed the Bulldog run, and freshman Mohamed Bamba’s 14 points, with 10 in the final eight minutes, helped the Longhorns bounce back with a 75-60 victory Saturday.
Junior Dylan Osetkowski scored a season-high 22 points and pulled down seven rebounds, and freshman Jericho Sims had nine points and eight rebounds in one of the best performances of his young career.
“Jericho, his best basketball is such a beautiful vision but it’s so far in front of him,” Smart said. “He had nine points and eight rebound today in 20 minutes. I’m telling you, he’s like a fraction of what he can be at some point. Unfortunately it’s not tomorrow, it’s a ways down the road.
“I think with him it’s just about continuing to gain a comfort level and understand that if he makes a mistake, to move on to the next play.”
From the under-12 to the under-8 in the second half, the game was much closer than Smart would have preferred, but Bamba took over the game playing with four fouls. In addition to his 14 points, he notched five important blocks, several of them coming while playing with those fouls.
Bamba’s alley-oop from freshman Jase Febres with five minutes left gave the Longhorns a 12 point lead. Texas shot well enough from the foul line to keep the Bulldogs from coming back, and continued to play strong defense to close out the 40 minutes.
“I think at the end when he went back in, he said ‘forget it, I’m just going to go attack. Whatever happens, happens,’” Smart said.
Texas did not emphasize perimeter shooting, taking just 14 three-point attempts to Louisiana Tech’s 25. That said, they made 43% of them thanks to facilitating through the post. Three of Texas’ four leading scorers were post players, and much of the successful offense flowed through them.
“It was a huge emphasis, just throwing the ball inside,” Smart said. “We’ve gotten the ball inside a decent amount in previous games. When you throw it in from the wing, if they’re able to bump you off the post – it goes to the long post – and now teams can either double or they can sit off their lap off the perimeter. If you can throw it in with two feet in the paint or from the top, there’s just less help. We spent a lot of time on that and there was some good possessions.”
Texas started strong with a 7-0 run to open the game and pressed early to force the Bulldogs into contested shots. Neither team could establish an offensive identity through the first 10, with Texas’ early run and the Bulldogs’ 12 first half turnovers helping the Longhorns hold that near double-digit cushion for most of the half.
The lineup Texas used was one of the younger ones it has put on the floor all season, as sophomore Jacob Young replaced junior Eric Davis in the spot normally occupied by the injured Andrew Jones. Davis did not see the floor, while Febres notched 13 minutes. Smart said following the game that Davis was nursing an injury in his shooting hand, and although he could have played Smart said Davis was “just a long way from being 100 percent.”
Young added 11 points on the evening.
With emphasizing throwing the ball inside, Smart talked about possibly playing all three of Sims, Osetkowski and Bamba at the same time. Bamba spoke after the game about how that could be a strength for the Longhorns depending on the matchup.
“The offensive versatility between Jericho and Dylan is very strong; they can pick and pop and have killer jump shots,” Bamba said. “I’m also working on my jump shot, but inside not a lot of teams can play with us. A lot of Big 12 teams play a lot of 1-2-3-3 and 5 but not a lot teams can hang with Dylan down low, and at the same time if we go small, not a lot of teams can play with Dylan when he pulls it out.”
Texas takes on Tennessee State on Monday at home in their next matchup.