A new season of Texas men’s basketball ignited on Friday night at the Frank Erwin Center as the Longhorns throttled Northwestern State, 105-59, in the season opener. With year three of the Shaka Smart era in Austin underway, there are high expectations for this team to turn things around after a dreadful 11-22 finish last season. Texas fans got to see a little bit of everything from Smart’s retooled roster on Friday night. Here are three thoughts from the season opener.
Mo Bamba makes his highly-anticipated debut
What Texas fans most wanted to see on Friday night was 6-foot-11, 225-pound freshman forward Mohamed Bamba. In pregame introductions, Bamba was the last starter to be called, and he subsequently received the loudest cheers from the crowd.
Bamba scored Texas’ first points of the game in thrilling fashion. Junior forward Dylan Osetkowski’s shot from the left side of the paint traveled too far, but Bamba was waiting for it on the opposite side. Bamba elevated to throw down a put-back slam to amp up the crowd in the early going. Not a bad way to begin his collegiate career.
Bamba led all Texas scorers with 15 points on 6-9 shooting, collecting eight rebounds along the way.
“We won’t see the best version of Mo this year,” Smart said after the game. “That’s way down the line. But we can see a really good version. I thought tonight was a precursor of that.”
Osetkowski showcases his versatility
Since last season, Smart has raved about Dylan Osetkowski and his untapped potential. The junior forward had to sit out last season after transferring from Tulane. All of that potential was forced to reside on the bench for a full season. But Osetkowski finally got to show off his versatility and athleticism on Friday night.
Both of those qualities were put on display in one standout play midway through the first half. Junior guard Kerwin Roach II fired a three from the corner, but the ball rattled off the front of the rim. Osetkowski came sprinting down the lane from near midcourt and in the blink of an eye slammed home a forceful put-back dunk to bring the crowd to life.
“Coach Smart always calls me a unicorn — a man of many talents,” Osetkowski said. “I was just so happy to get back out there and enjoy the experience.”
Osetkowski finished the night with a double-double, totaling 13 points and 10 rebounds. He may be the Swiss Army knife on this Texas team. He has a very good handle for a big man and can bring the ball up the floor in transition. He’s a scrapper down low in the paint and will do much of Texas’ dirty work this season — defending, rebounding and fighting for loose balls. And Osetkowski can also step outside and knock down a three, making him that much more difficult to guard.
Seven Longhorns finish in double figures
If Texas is going to be a serious competitor in the Big 12 this season and get back in the NCAA tournament, it will have to show consistent improvement on the offensive end, specifically from beyond the arc.
The Longhorns got off to a sizzling start from the three-point line on Friday night, opening the game 4-4. Texas finished 10-33 from three and shot 49 percent from the field. Seven Longhorns finished in double figures. Freshman point guard Matt Coleman had 14 points in his Texas debut and showed great poise running this improved run-and-gun offense.
“That’s the style of play we’ve been wanting to play for and we’ve been building to play for,” sophomore guard Andrew Jones said. “It showed tonight, and there’s only more to come.”