The force was with the Longhorns on Star Wars Day at the Frank Erwin Center.
Texas overcame a sluggish first half and turned a frustrating, hair-pulling game against the Central Michigan Chippewas into a comfortable 87-76 win, continuing Texas’ best start under head coach Shaka Smart.
Much like previous games, Saturday afternoon’s matchup was a tale of two halves. For the first twenty minutes, Texas appeared completely outmatched, with a common theme of “not enough.” Not enough points, not enough three-point shooting and not enough defensive stops as the Longhorns surrendered a season-high 42 first-half points to the visiting Chippewas, something Smart attributed to a lack of urgency.
“I told the guys afterward, we’re going to tell you what they do and what’s dangerous about them,” Smart said. “It’s our job as a team and our five guys on the floor to have a level of urgency about taking it away.”
The second half couldn’t have been more different.
The Longhorns emerged from the locker room resurgent, with a newfound confidence and energy absent from the first half, immediately going on an 8-0 run to reset the game at 44.
“I thought, in the second half, when our guys really dedicated themselves to taking away (three-pointers and a fast pace), we defended them much better,” Smart said.
The 8-0 run was just the start. Texas outscored Central Michigan 51-34 in the second half behind stellar performances from sophomore and junior guards Courtney Ramey and Jase Febres.
Ramey exploded for 18 of his career-high 20 in the second half, finding a rhythm and fulfilling his role as a playmaker.
But while Ramey quietly put up career numbers, the focus of the crowd and the team was on Febres, heating up for a season-high seven three-pointers and 23 points.
“It’s like I can’t miss,” Febres said. “When I start feeling like that, guys continue to find me and continue to look for me. It’s my job to come in and knock down threes and be the spark.”
After his four first-half three-pointers kept the Longhorns within striking distance in the first half, his three in the second half eventually catapulted the Longhorns into a lead they wouldn’t look back from.
“As soon as I get the ball, I’m going to look for Jase,” Ramey said. “I don’t care if he’s on the bench, I’m going to find him.”
And find him he did.
While his counterpart junior guard Matt Coleman had somewhat of a quiet night, Ramey connected with Febres on three of his seven threes for four of his six assists on the night, as the Longhorns finally managed to pull away from the Chippewas in the second half.
“If (Coleman and Ramey) are both great, we’re going to win,” Smart said. “If one of them is playing extremely well and one of them is playing well, we have a good chance.”
Now, with a sporadic schedule leading up to the start of conference play on Jan. 4, Smart wants his players to find the right moments to shine while younger players continue to mature.
“(Some players) have a decent amount of experience, like Courtney, Matt, Jase and Andrew (Jones), now it’s a matter of pulling it out at the right time, but that’s what those guys did today,” Smart said. “When the competition goes up, you’ve got to respond better, and that’s coming in our next game.”