Game Review: Longhorns Defeat Islanders, 76-70

Game Recap: The Texas Longhorns started 2010 as the second ranked team in the country and as the top ranked team by Ken Pomeroy's metrics. After just one game, the ‘Horns are now ranked number three by Pomeroy and might fall behind Kentucky in the polls when the new ones are released tomorrow.

The Longhorns did improve to 13-0, with a 76-70 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, but the season opening streak of double-digit victories is no longer intact.

Texas was lethargic from the start and actually fell behind 13-11 after the first eight minutes. The A&M-CC 2-3 zone was effective early. Like the Rice game, Texas looked unsure of how to attack the zone. The Longhorns repeatedly passed the ball around the perimeter, rarely feeding the low post or even the ball to the elbow, and eventually settling for contested three pointers. The ‘Horns started 0-for-6 from three and just 3-for-13 from the floor.

The first half spark came from Jai Lucas and Jordan Hamilton off the bench. With both players on the floor at the 11:38 mark, Texas turned an 11-13 deficit into a 29-13 advantage. Hamilton assisted on a Lucas three, Lucas assisted on a Hamilton three, Hamilton added a long jumper and two free throws, and Lucas a second three-pointer. The difference was not just that the long jumpers were going down; it was that Texas was pressuring the defense off the bounce and generating easier looks inside and out. Basically, during this run, the Texas offense was dictating to the A&M-CC defense instead of the other way around. It is also worth mentioning that Jai picked up two charges during this stretch.

The game should have been in hand, but it was not.

From there, the teams went back and forth, leading to a 41-29 halftime lead by Texas. Even after the hot shooting by Lucas and James Hamilton, the ‘Horns shot just 39% from the floor and 27% from three in the first half. Avery Bradley was 0-for-the first half and ended 0-for-the game, by far his worst shooting performance of the season. Dogus Balbay seemed frustrated by the length of A&M-CC and was largely unable to penetrate the zone; Damion James settled for far too many mid-range jumpers; and J'Covan Brown followed his poor shooting performance against Gardner-Webb with another one yesterday afternoon.

Texas started with more energy in the second half but also with more sloppiness. The ‘Horns missed a handful of lay ups, started missing free throws after sinking 79% in the first half, and coughed up the ball. All of that, plus continued poor shooting from the floor and a general lack of rebounding, allowed A&M-CC to cut the 12 point halftime lead to six points.

The Longhorns did build the lead back to 14, at 59-45, behind better shooting from James and a couple of easy looks for Dexter Pittman. Texas held onto a 13 point lead over the next couple of minutes and led 69-56 with just under five minutes remaining. As frustrating as the first 35 minutes had to be for Coach Barnes, Texas appeared to be headed for a runaway 15+ point win. It was not to be, though. Turnovers and a lack of defense let A&M-CC cut the final margin to only six.

Analysis after the jump...

The outcome was: Disappointing. While A&M-CC is better than your average cupcake, the reasons this one was close all fall on Texas. The ‘Horns were outhustled and outrebounded, seemed baffled by how to attack the 2-3 zone, and shot the ball as poorly as they have all season.

Stats of the Game: Rebounds 47-37 A&M-CC; Second Chance Pts 26-24 A&M-CC. Rebounding is about effort as much as it is about size and position. The Islanders fought for every rebound and hustled to every loose ball. The Longhorns played like they were entitled to both. Hopefully, this lack of focus and desire can be chalked up to a post-New Year's Eve disappointment and won't carry over to games against more skilled competition.

The Offensive MVPs were:  Jordan Hamilton and Jai Lucas. As mentioned in the recap, Hamilton and Lucas were the two keys in the 18-0 first half run. Hamilton finished with 17 points (4-of-10 floor, 3-of-8 three, 6-of-7 FT), 4 rebounds, a team-high 7 assists, and 2 steals in 22 minutes. For the most part, the shot selection was good, and his desire on defense was there. Jordan is still a half-step slow laterally on defense and allows the corner to be turned too often. However, his offensive skills were outstanding against A&M-CC. He passed the ball beautifully, especially to Pittman on the interior, and made the Islanders pay for leaving him open on the perimeter.

It sounds like Barnes starts Justin Mason so that the ‘Horns can start each game with a defensive focus. That is fine. However, if Jordan's defense improves a little more and he continues to play in control, Hamilton's ability to shoot the ball and rebound from the wing should warrant him starting consideration.

I have tried to take a wait and see approach to Jai Lucas over his first couple of games. After seeing him over four games, what he brings to the table is starting to emerge. Even with an odd leg kick in his jumper, Lucas can flat out shoot the ball. He is also a decent passer and ball handler. I am still concerned with his ability to defend bigger guards, but I expect Jai to bring 6-9 points, a couple of assists, and limited turnovers in about 15-20 minutes for the rest of the season.

The Defensive MVPs were: No one. No one really stood out to me. As a team, Texas did limit A&M-CC to 37% from the floor and create 27 turnovers, both of which are great numbers. Individually, Pittman had five blocks and a steal, James had three blocks and a steal, and Hamilton, Dogus Balbay, and Mason had two steals apiece.

Three Things:

(1) Bradley's and Brown's jumpers have disappeared: In the last two games, Avery Bradley is 3-of-20 (15%) from the floor, including just 1-of-8 from three. I'd like to see Avery rely less on his jumper and more on his ability to get to the rim. He is too athletic and too quick to become a standstill three-point shooter. Second, when he does take jumpers, Bradley needs to shoot more from the top of the key or from the wing and elbows and less from the corners. A three-pointer from the corner is one of the toughest shots in basketball. Until he locates his lost jumper, he would be better served taking 15-20 footers from easier angles.

In the last two games, J'Covan Brown is 6-of-26 (23%), including 2-of-15 from three. Brown does not have a quick trigger, so he must have a little more time to release his jumper accurately. I've also notice him falling away from the basket on his three-point looks, and consequently. a bunch of his attempts have come up short. Next, Brown has the ability to get into the lane and either finish or find a teammate for an open look. Sure, he plays the two guard spot alongside Balbay often, but J'Covan should be recording more than an assist a game. Texas will need the shooting abilities of both of these guys to challenge Kansas in the Big XII.

(2) Back-up Bigs are very limited: In the preview, I noted that I would like to see Alexis Wangmene, Matt Hill, and Clint Chapman contribute against A&M-CC. I think their ability to play positive minutes will be important as the season progresses, especially in games during which Pittman is in foul trouble. Well, nothing I saw yesterday afternoon game me any confidence. Wingman played four minutes, Chapman played a single minute, and Matt Hill didn't play at all. If none of these three are going to see action, then are frontcourt rotation is just James, Pittman, and Gary Johnson. That doesn't sound like enough. None of these three back-ups need to score, but I'm sure Barnes would like to see more toughness defensively and on the glass when they do get their chances.

(3) Texas is going to see a lot of zone: Hamilton can shoot the three as can Lucas. I thought Brown and Bradley could shoot it but they are both struggling. Mason and Balbay can't shoot at all. On the season, Texas is making only 32.9% of their attempts from behind the arc. This is good for 205th best in the country. One of the team's limitations last season was that only one Longhorn was a threat from deep, AJ Abrams. The inability to scare defenses from behind the arc produced face guarding of Abrams and four defenders in the paint to take away James and Pittman. We are far from seeing those types of defenses this year. That said, Texas is not shooting it well from three, and the more we struggle, the more difficult it will become to play through Pittman on the low block. If we haven't added all our zone offensive sets yet, now would be the time because Texas will continue to see zone until we prove we can beat it.

Box Score

NEXT GAME: Away vs. Arkansas - Tuesday 1/5 6 pm ESPN2

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