Big 12 play does not start until the new year, and the goal for a school like Texas is to escape from the nonconference schedule without suffering a résumé-altering loss. The Longhorns have survived a couple of close calls already this season, with another occurring against Prairie View A&M.
Through the first half of the game, the performance on the court was very similar to those of the first three games of the season: very little separation between teams, with strong defensive energy on the side of the Longhorns. Texas held on to a four-point lead at halftime, mirroring the score at halftime against California Baptist University earlier in the week.
“We want our defense to be our anchor,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “You know, these last two games we’ve scored 26 points in the first half. But our defense has allowed us to have a lead going into halftime both times.”
Redshirt sophomore guard Andrew Jones continued his strong start to the season in the first half, chipping in 10 points and an assist. His return to the roster after recovering from leukemia has given the Longhorns a valuable option to go to on offense. He would finish the game with 15 total points.
The game continued to be close throughout the start of the second half. Failure to generate offense with Jones off the floor continued to be a problem for Texas, while continued effort on defense kept Texas in the game.
Sophomore guard Courtney Ramey was held without a point in the game, a departure from his career high-tying performance Tuesday where he scored 19 points, including 15 in the second half. Freshman guard Donovan Williams helped pick up the slack, dropping 13 points in the contest in addition to four steals.
“Coach (Luke) Yaklich and coach Smart have been talking to me since the summer to work on my defensive game,” Williams said. “I just take what they say and do it to the best of my abilities — whatever I can do to help Texas.”
“We just wanted to come out more aggressively,” Jones said. “We played a little timid and shot a lot of threes in the first half, so we decided to play to our advantage, get stops and continue to pound the ball into the paint.”
The Longhorns did not look back after earning a 10-point lead with about 13 minutes left in the half and went on to win the game 70-56. Texas leaned on its defense and on Jones just enough to start the season with four straight wins, allowing the Longhorns to gain momentum before a very important return to New York City.
Texas has been gaining valuable minutes on the floor and has shaken off the rust of the offseason in the past four games. The defense is hitting its stride, and the offense is beginning to wake up just in time for Madison Square Garden matchups against Georgetown and possibly No. 2 Duke.
“We’ll review a bunch of the areas that we fell,” Smart said. “When we went up to Purdue, our guys really stepped forward with the challenge. We’re going to have to do that again in New York.”