It didn’t take long for Texas to be tested this season. Redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones, who head coach Shaka Smart called the team’s best scorer, sat out of Wednesday night’s home opener due to COVID-19 precautions, but the Longhorns proved their depth was legitimate in a 91-55 victory over UT-Rio Grande Valley at the Frank Erwin Center.
“We have 13 guys who can come in and impact the game at any moment,” sophomore forward Kai Jones said. “That’s what I think is so special about our team.”
Off the opening tip, the Longhorns’ defense stifled UT-RGV, holding the Vaqueros to only four points in the first nine and a half minutes. Texas didn’t let down all game with its soft full-court pressure. UT-RGV shot only 26% from the field, the second-lowest mark for an opponent against a Smart-coached Texas team.
“We’re better that way when the game is chaotic and we’re extending the floor and playing with active hands,” Smart said. “But it does require an extreme level of energy, and 40 minutes is a lot of time.”
After a 10-0 run for the Vaqueros in the middle of the first half that brought UT-RGV within 10 points at 36-27, Texas put its foot back on the gas and didn’t let go. During a late second-half run, the Longhorns played their best basketball of the night.
Starting junior guard Courtney Ramey led the team with an efficient 20 points and seven assists after Andrew was held out of the game due to a cough. The redshirt junior guard, along with the rest of the team, tested negative for COVID-19 Tuesday, but Big 12 protocols mandate that players showing certain symptoms must be held out, Smart said.
“Of all our guys, I was most excited to see him play tonight because he’s had such a good offseason,” Smart said. “But we just got to take a next man up mentality and hope that he is fine tomorrow.”
The other starting guard, senior Matt Coleman, also produced in Andrew’s absence, scoring 17 points and dishing five assists with only one turnover.
Kai was the big beneficiary of the guard play, especially from Ramey, when the big man ran the floor and finished several emphatic transition lobs. He finished with 14 points and eight rebounds. Smart said Kai and Ramey have been connecting on lobs like that in practice all preseason.
The Longhorns went nine players deep Wednesday night, with every player earning more than 10 minutes. That depth served them well tonight against UT-RGV, but Smart has expressed a need to cut down the rotation to seven or eight players once the team gets closer to Big 12 Conference play.
“Tonight, there were a couple guys that I allowed to play through mistakes,” Smart said. “But obviously, as you go up in the level of competition, you can’t make as many mistakes. So we have got to get better, quick, with our younger talented guys.
Freshman forward Greg Brown is one such player the head coach said could improve. The five-star recruit struggled shooting the ball in his debut, but had two dunks, including a monster highlight poster.
Brown notched a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds by getting to the free throw line, where he was 7-9.
“Obviously, it was his first game,” Smart said. “But for him to not play very well and get a double-double, it’s a good sign because he can play much, much better.”
The freshman will get his chance to improve on his game and get another vicious poster when Texas travels to Asheville, North Carolina, for the 2020 Maui Invitational next Monday.
The Longhorns are scheduled to play Davidson at 11 a.m.