J'Covan Brown scored 35 points, Myck Kabongo quietly flirted with a triple-double, and five Longhorns scored in double figures as Texas basketball improved to 2-0 with a 100-90 victory over the Rhode Island Rams. Texas jumped out to a 22-10 lead early and extended the margin to 16, but the Rams promptly connected on 5 of 7 three point shots to close the final 6 minutes of the half on a 23-10 run.
Rhode Island's rally continued into the second half, using pressure defense and offensive rebounding to go up 59-58, their first lead since the opening minutes of the game. It was hard at that point not to wonder if this young Texas team would be able to get back on track, but the Longhorns ripped off an incredibly impressive 13-0 run to re-assume command of the game.
J'Covan started the rally on a fast break alley-oop to Sheldon McClellan (plus one), Jonathan Holmes scored 4 straight points on a driving lay up and two free throws, and then McClellan and Brown each buried a three. Thirteen straight points, and game over. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought it the rally of a veteran team.
Click through the jump for individual player notes and team analysis...
INDIVIDUAL PLAYER NOTES
J'Covan Brown -- 36 minutes, 35 points (10-22, 5-10 3PFG, 10-12 FTs), 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 0 turnovers, 2 steals
Brown joked after the game that he wished Kevin Durant and Tristan Thompson would get a job already and leave the team alone, but his performance against Rhode Island gave away his true feelings. J'Covan was brilliant once again, delivering a masterful performance filled with great scores of his own and great assists to his teammates. Brown put all his skills to use to rack up 35 points for himself, but once again it was his passing that illuminated his elite feel for and understanding of the game of basketball.
Texas had four dunks on Tuesday afternoon, and all 4 came on Brown assists -- two each to Chapman and McClellan. The pair to McClellan -- both alley-oops -- were brilliant not only in their vision and execution, but also in recognition: Brown threw up lobs to McClellan because you should throw lobs to McClellan. The kid's vertical is ridiculous, and as my buddy noted, he's "spring-y" -- meaning he gets way up there really damn fast. With some players -- most players, really -- an alley oop pass is usually the wrong pass, a good idea only if it's all set up just right. With McClellan, throwing it up over the rim is a great pass -- he can convert it, and doing so makes productive use of the advantages his strengths create.
The bottom line is that in Brown and Kabongo (hereafter, "J'Bongo") Texas has two different, but complementary, primary ballhandlers. Kabongo can beat you with his quickness, Brown can beat you with his outside shot and tremendous overall feel for the game, and both excel at getting their teammates open buckets.
Myck Kabongo -- 34 minutes, 18 points (3-10, 0-3 3PFG, 12-17 FTs), 7 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 turnovers, 3 steals
Our freshman point guard wasn't as efficient or effective as his junior counterpart, particularly during an up-and-down first half when he got a little tired and lost a couple turnovers playing out of control. It's interesting to watch Kabongo experience the differences at this higher level of play, and fun to watch him learn from it. Which he is: for the second straight game Kabongo finished with a stronger second half of play after making minor, but intelligent, adjustments.
Kabongo was playing too fast in the first half, at times sprinting the ball up the court or into the lane without purpose. At lower levels, the very act of running/driving creates an opportunity, but that's much less often the case at the collegiate level. In the second half, Kabongo did a much better job of attacking purposefully and methodically, with improved results. His elite talent and abilities are definitely a thrill to watch, but it's equally exciting to see just how much he still has to learn. He's still learning how to manage contact to his advantage, whether in creating separation or getting to the free throw line. He's still learning when slower can be better, and he's still learning how to finish fast breaks against the bigger, quicker defenders in college.
Through two games, just as important as seeing that Myck Kabongo is as talented as advertised is seeing that he is a smart basketball player with the capacity to learn and grow. The learning curve is always steep, and though with the most talented players the question may not be 'if' -- as it is for most -- there can be a lot of variance in the 'when.' On that count the early returns on Kabongo are most promising, and will make it interesting to see where he is as a player come February.
Jonathan Holmes -- 21 minutes, 11 points (2-2, 7-8 FTs), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 turnover, 1 block
There was a lot to like about Holmes based on his debut against BU, but I was even more encouraged by his performance against Rhode Island. First of all, though he remains a player-who-happens-to-be-big that's literally going to have to learn the skill of being a rebounder, he took a step forward in his second game. It wasn't a quantum leap, but he showed better awareness and aggressiveness, a good and important first step. He's got a long ways to go, and he's not going to become a strong rebounder this year, but we do need him to be at least a relevant contributor on the glass. We got some of that on Tuesday.
Beyond that, though, I thought Holmes was key to our second half rally, and the two plays he made as part of that decisive 13-point rally showed a certain maturity that you don't expect from a true freshman and that really helped get the team back on track. With the team settling a bit for jumpers in the halfcourt, Holmes used his above-average handles to beat his man off the dribble and get to the rim for a lay up, and then on the next possession grabbed an impressive offensive rebound and got fouled, draining both free throws. He's an impressive player with a lot of interesting skills and surprising poise. He's a long way from being a forceful interior player, but if he can continue learning how to be a better rebounder he's already showed us that he can be a valuable offensive contributor.
Sheldon McClellan -- 22 minutes, 10 points (3-3, 1-1 3PFG, 3-3 FTs), 2 rebounds, 0 turnovers
After a pretty choppy debut, McClellan delivered a much steadier performance that was as quietly impressive as one featuring two alley-oop dunks can be. The highlight reel finishes showed off his obscene athleticism and jumping ability, while the rest of his performance was solid in all the ways that will earn him a leash to stay out on the court and learn/develop.
(Parenthetically, it's remarkable how mature and steady all these freshmen are, isn't it? They're inexperienced and have plenty to learn, but they all play with a certain steadiness that is truly surprising to see among freshmen players. They all seem to know what a good shot is and how to play within their roles, without being passive. It's interesting. I wonder whether it says anything about how much they can/will develop over the course of this season. It'll be fun to watch and find out.)
Back to McClellan, I get the sense watching him that he's never really been challenged before. To his credit, he hasn't been forcing things as he's encountered resistance, but watching him I see a player who's having to learn how to play effectively at this level. This isn't necessarily a criticism -- just an observation about what it looks to me like McClellan is doing right now. One wonders whether the light's going to come on at some point this year or whether he'll take the leap as a sophomore, but I love what I see in terms of what he's capable of being as he puts it all together. The kid has a pure stroke, he can get his own shot from 10 feet in (although he isn't comfortable doing so yet), he plays very capable defense, and he can be one of the best finishers in college basketball with his athlticism and leaping ability. His potential is incredible.
Julien Lewis -- 25 minutes, 11 points (4-14, 3-7 3PFG), 1 rebound, 2 turnovers, 3 steals
After a strong start Lewis got thrown off a bit and he struggled a bit to recover, but all in all he delivered another encouraging performance, giving us some needed scoring and impact defense. Lewis seemed a bit to be a victim of the choppy flow to the game (there were 53 fouls called in total), but I was again impressed by his fearlessness on offense, and this outside shooting is no mirage -- he's got a smooth, consistent stroke off a balanced base and quick release. We played him on the baseline of our zone defense a bit, but McClellan seems the better option there if we're going to play a wing down low in the zone -- Lewis can't offer the same as a rebounder, and he really thrives playing pressure ball-you-man defense.
Alexis Wangmene -- 20 minutes, 2 points (1-1), 2 rebounds, 1 steal
Lexi played hard, but not especially effectively, and my hopes for a step forward this year are fading. He's starting right now, but it won't last if he can't make more of an impact as a rebounder. There's not much new in the way of analysis here; either he provides that specific value, or we don't want him playing 20 minutes.
Clint Chapman -- 22 minutes, 7 points (3-4, 1-2 FTs), 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 1 block
Chapman turned in his best performance as a Longhorn, giving us 22 active, hard-played minutes. The offensive skill has always been there, but Barnes couldn't play Chapman because he struggled to provide, well, everything else. He's more talented and athletic than Matt Hill, and if he can rebound consistently like he did today, he's the better option to start over Wangmene. Importantly, the more he plays productively, the longer he can stay out on the floor -- something he's been unable to do in the past and which has hurt his ability to develop and make progress. You don't normally talk about a senior that way, but there's an opportunity for Chapman on this year's team, and he may well continue to improve as he continues to play more. We'll see, but he's off to a better start than I was hoping for.
Jaylen Bond -- 17 minutes, 6 points (2-2, 2-2 FTs), 6 rebounds, 1 turnover
Early on I thought we might be seeing a breakout game from Bond, but he kept doing something (or not doing something) that Barnes didn't like and earned him a return to the bench. I'd probably have to re-watch the game on tape to say specifically each of the things Bond is doing/not doing that are limiting his minutes right now, but I did see more of that promise in today's game. Bond is physically developed and very athletic, but he's a bit of a tweener in terms of his height/length, which means he has to be both smart and active to be effective. I saw him be more active today; I suspect Barnes wants him to be smarter and more aware. Same as the opener, my grade for Bond remains incomplete. I need to see more.
Sterling Gibbs -- 3 minutes, 0 points (0-1), 1 rebound, 2 turnovers
Gibbs got in the game early, but two quick turnovers ended his afternoon. This was a fast game full of great athletes that that Barnes clearly decided Gibbs wasn't quite ready for.
Rhode Island provided a great intermediate test for this young Texas team. Jim Baron's squads always play aggressive pressure defense, and it was a good challenge for us to face. For the most part we handled it well, particularly in using their pressure against them to create easy scoring opportunities for ourselves. And though it seemed like more, we only turned it over 12 times, a good rate over that many possessions.
I was surprised and intrigued when midway through the first half Texas shifted into a zone because as I wrote in the preseason, while I think our perimeter length might make us capable of playing a solid zone, I doubted Barnes would go for it. The results today weren't particularly good, but I liked the decision to give it a shot today. First of all, with our frontcourt issues we may not have a choice but to play zone at times this year, so we'd might as well start playing some early on. Second, the pace of the game was getting pretty hectic and I thought Barnes partly went with the zone to try and slow things down a bit. And third, with the notable exception of Malesevic, the Rams were a terrible outside shooting team last season. Naturally, after five pretty good minutes playing zone the Rams went on their run by connecting on 5 of 7 three pointers when we lost track of Malesevic and their new point guard Powell proved he can shoot.
We went back to man defense in the second half and that was that, but we probably should keep playing zone on a semi-regular basis, if only to prepare for times when we need it. When we do, I like a line up with Brown and Kabongo up top, with Chapman in the middle flanked by Holmes and McClellan on the baseline. I think that unit can make it work, if we practice at it.
In terms of handling their pressure, we had our moments of difficulty but on the whole demonstrated that it's not likely to pay to press us. With both J'Covan and Kabongo such capable ball handlers, and with so many strong open court players, we're a particularly dangerous team to try and press. Rhode Island benefited from being the first team to try, but I suspect the price to be paid by opponents will only increase.
All in all, this wasn't a performance without its blemishes, but I was very impressed with the way we won. I was encouraged that we got a wide range of contributions from the roster, and I especially loved the way we remained poised and stepped up to counter Rhode Island's rally when they took a 59-58 lead. Our weaknesses remain and aren't going away, but the first two games have highlighted our considerable strengths and reveal these freshmen to be as talented as expected, and more poised and polished.
This is a fun team with great chemistry, plenty of talent, not enough size, and lots of room to grow. It's going to be a fun season to watch, and an easy team to root for. Hook 'em.
Next Game: Oregon State, Saturday at 7:00 p.m. in East Rutherford, NJ.