Freshman guard Kerwin Roach, Jr. split the defense and drove to the rim for a thunderous and-one dunk to awaken a quietly sparse Frank Erwin Center crowd late in the first half. He wasn’t done, though, hitting a three on Texas’ next possession for an encore.
The first-half sequence was a highlight in the Longhorns’ 95-61 exhibition win over Tarleton State.
“[I was] just being aggressive,” Roach said. “Coach always has the mentality of us being aggressive, so I just wanted to go out there and attack.”
It wasn’t just Roach. Each of the freshmen impressed in Texas’ final tuneup before the regular season. Roach and guard/forward Tevin Mack ended with 16 points each while guard Eric Davis, Jr. added 12.
“They’re freshmen — they got a long way to go, particularly on the defensive end,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “They’ve got so much to learn, but they’ve been three of our better players, particularly offensively, for the past five weeks.”
The Longhorns came into the game ready to show what they might look like under Smart come the regular season but were sloppy for most of the first half.
The Longhorns had four turnovers within the first five minutes, while their shooting dipped to below 30 percent at one point in the first half.
“I thought there were some situations tonight where we did not make the extra pass where we needed to, and then there were some plays where we really did do a good job of sharing the ball,” Smart said.
The saving grace was Texas’ three-point shooting. The Longhorns knocked down seven of 14 threes in the first half, with five coming from the freshmen. Texas also held Tarleton State to 31 percent shooting, forced nine turnovers and went into halftime up, 49-28.
“[Smart] tells us to just go out there and play the game like you know how to play," Roach said. "Don’t be timid. Don’t do nothing like that. So we just go out there and ball out."
The Longhorns played a much better second half and ran the Texans out of the gym, outscoring them, 46-33, and shooting 47.4 percent. Senior center Cameron Ridley shined in the second half and notched a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Ridley was the only non-freshmen to score in double figures.
“[Smart] is going to find a way for everyone to play,” Ridley said. “He’s going to do what he has to do to get everyone on the court.”
Texas travels to China tomorrow for its season opener against Washington in China on Nov. 13. Smart said Texas has plenty to work on before then.
“There’s a lot of things we can take from the tape tonight that we need to improve on and we need to focus on,” Smart said. “We’re going to practice over there, obviously, and try to get ready for Washington.”