Longhorns look to move away from reliance on outside shot

Robert Larkin

Jase Febres caught the pass just behind the 3-point arc and elevated to shoot with three seconds left. His team trailing by three, Febres’ shot was Texas’ final prayer to avoid a devastating loss to Radford.

Center Jaxson Hayes was confident it would go through the net, too, standing up from the bench and extending his arms in the air.

Only the ball didn’t, clanking harmlessly off the rim to secure a deflating 62-59 defeat. It was a fitting end to a night where the Longhorns shot 19 percent from beyond the arc on 27 attempts.

But Texas’ shooting performance on Friday nights fits well with the opening of its season. Despite the Longhorns shooting an underwhelming 29 percent from behind the arc on the season, they have become reliant on the 3-point shot. Texas ranks 10th among all NCAA teams in 3-point field goal attempts per game.

That trend has become increasingly concerning for head coach Shaka Smart. While he encourages his team to shoot the basketball, he wants to emphasize that if the Longhorns continue to struggle shooting like they have, they’ll need to shift to a formula that focuses on driving more to the basket.

“There was almost a stubbornness with that,” Smart said. “I get it from the standpoint that if you’re a good player and feel like this is the shot I can make, you want to do that. But at the same time, if it’s not going in, you got to do something different.”

When the Longhorns performed at their best on the offensive end in their win against then-No. 7 North Carolina, they maintained a free-flowing, aggressive style of basketball. And the effort was led by guard Kerwin Roach driving to the basket routinely past defenders, which allowed the offense to open up.

“We played the game as a team,” Febres said. “Our mentality was to just come out there and be aggressive on the offense. (Roach) was having a field day out there, and we just keep feeding off his energy.”

“We were really playing loose out there,” Sims added. “I think that’s something that helped us (during the North Carolina game).”

Texas, however, has lacked that style over its last two games against Radford and Michigan State. The offense has frequently looked constrained and content with heaving long field goal attempts, which indicated by the 3-point numbers.

Part of that is the result of defenses packing their defenders inside the 3-point line. But Smart contends that his team shouldn’t take that as an excuse to exclusively take outside shots.

“One thing we spent a lot of time talking about is an emphasis in not necessarily taking those shots as early and making the defense work,” Smart said. “Trying to get the ball into the paint first and I think that can lead to getting to the foul line more often.”

The Longhorns will have an opportunity to implement changes with two games in the coming week. But with quality opponents in VCU and Purdue looming ahead, finding success while going through that change will be a difficult task.