Playing at home has a lot of advantages. There’s the comfort of one’s own locker in the home team’s locker room, familiar routines before the game starts and the home fans. The last element may be the most important of the three.
Whatever Longhorn fans brought to the table this season worked wonders for Texas, as the Longhorns’ 89-58 win over High Point extended their perfect record when playing at home. Texas has been better able to come back from adversity and stay focused in close games when playing at the Frank Erwin Center.
“It means a lot to us when fans and students come out to support our games,” head coach Shaka Smart said before the season started. “It gives these guys energy.”
The final game of the decade for the Longhorns started with some new faces in the starting five. Redshirt sophomore guard Andrew Jones, Texas’s second-leading scorer this season, got his first start since a 2017 game against VCU. Additionally, sophomore forward Kamaka Hepa, who had only been on the court for about 20 minutes this season, found himself in the starting lineup.
Junior forward Jericho Sims continued his strong start to the season in the first 20 minutes, leading Texas in scoring with seven points and grabbing six rebounds. Sims’ physical play near the rim has given opposing teams issues when attacking the basket. He would finish with a double-double in points and rebounds.
In the first half, nine different players scored for the Longhorns in a display of the depth that the roster boasts. Ten players scored by the end of the game. That kind of depth has helped Texas mount comebacks and finish games all season long.
“I like the fact that we’ve got a lot of diversity on our team from the standpoint of guys that can help our team in different ways,” Smart said following a home win over Central Michigan. “I think that’s one of the recipes for a team that can continue to grow. We’ve got different guys that have contributed at different times.”
A dominant second half that saw the Longhorns extend the winning margin to 31 guaranteed that no matter what else happened in the past 10 years, Texas would be leaving the decade victorious.
This season, Texas has been able to take advantage of all of the players’ contributions, winning 10 games out of its first 12. While last year’s team proved unable to pull through in some close-game situations, this year’s squad has shown resilience when challenges arise.
“I feel like last year helped us for this year,” sophomore guard Courtney Ramey said after the win against the Chippewas. “It shows our maturity and how confident and more prepared we are this year than we were last year, and we all believe in each other. If we do the things that we each do well, it’ll give us a strong chance to win each and every game.”
While Texas can celebrate New Year’s with a victory, the toughest test of the season is on deck. Texas will travel to Waco on Jan. 4 to take on the No. 6 Baylor Bears. The Longhorns have the talent to play with anyone, but they have to stay consistent throughout the entire game to have a shot at the road upset.