The Texas Longhorns are back to their winning ways. The ‘Horns used a late game stretch to pull away from Sam Houston State and improve to 3-2. The win, 56-40, snapped a two game losing streak after blowing second half leads to Oregon State and NC State in New Jersey.
If you weren't able to make it to the Erwin Center on Saturday night or don't have a cable provider who carries the Longhorn Network, you should consider yourself lucky. The game was that ugly and the individual performances by most of the Longhorns were forgettable. This is a young team that will definitely improve as the season progresses; however, this team would also be best served if tonight's performance was the worst of the season.
First, the good. From my things to watch, Texas won the rebounding battle, 43-37, and was also able to play defense without fouling. The Bearkats went to the free throw line just twice all game. Now, both of those are positive aspects of the game, but both were due more to Sam Houston State's choices than anything the Longhorns achieved.
Sam Houston State played with four guards for large portion of the game and really didn't crash the glass on either end. The Bearkats also were mostly content with shoot jump shots and rarely challenged Texas in the paint.
As for the third key, more from Myck Kabongo, let this be where the ugly begins. Kabongo played a largely invisible 33 minutes. His jumper was off early, and it shook his confidence. As the game continued, Kabongo passed up open mid range and deep looks until finally launching and connecting on a three-pointer in the final minute of the game.
His one-for-six outing extends his shooting slump. Yes, the ‘Horns are only five games into the season and Kabongo is a true freshman but he hasn't yet shown the ability to knock down jumpers consistently. In fact, the Bearkats were beginning to defend Myck the same way we saw opponents match-up with Dogus Balbay after his jumper showed up on film. Kabongo has good form on his J; he just isn't hitting right now. Hopefully, his final made jumper will give him some confidence in the games ahead. Even beyond his jump shot, Myck's four assists to three turnover ratio is not enough for a lead guard.
There were a few positive notes. Game balls go to freshmen Sheldon McClellan and Jonathan Holmes. McClellan gave Texas 24 high-quality minutes off the bench finishing with 12 points, six boards, and a steal. In the low scoring game with almost no flow offensively, Sheldon was exactly the spark Texas needed off the bench. He used this springy athletic ability on both shots and rebounds. After Julien Lewis's 1-for-7 shooting performance, don't be surprised to see McClellan in the starting line-up on Tuesday. He's earned it.
If McClellan wasn't the most impressed player tonight, then it had to be Jonathan Holmes. He finished with a game-high 14 points and just a rebound shy of a double-double. Holmes was aggressive throughout and scored in a variety of ways - in transition, on the low block, after offensive rebounds, and even from long-range. Jonathan is quickly becoming the second biggest offensive threat, behind J'Covan Brown. Although only 6-7 and possessing only freshman strength, Holmes is also improving on the defensive end by challenging and altering shots in the paint.
A quick nod to Alexis Wangmene as well. Wingman has always been blessed with the physical tools but has rarely put them to work in a positive fashion on the basketball court. Well, tonight was a different story, and one of his most solid performances of his career. In 27 minutes, Alexis scored 13 points, grabbed eight rebounds, including four offensive, and had an assist and two steals. This was the type of outing that Barnes and Texas need from a senior big man game after game.
Beyond those two freshmen, Wangmene, and the fact that Texas notched win number three, the rest of the game was UGLY. Texas started the first half 1-for-13 from the floor after settling for jumper after jumper and fell behind 16-4 after eight minutes of action. The Longhorns closed the first half by picking up the defense and by driving the ball for easier shots in the paint or trips to the line. Texas led 28-22 at the break.
The beginning of the second half was as painful to the eyes as was the beginning of the first half. The Longhorns opened 1-for-15 from the floor and led only 34-30 with ten minutes left to play. While the game was never close, with a 22-10 run the rest of the way, Coach Barnes has little to applaud.
On the game, Texas shot 31% from the floor, 23% from three, and only 61% from the line. The ‘Horns too often settled for jump shots instead of attacking the basket and then left points at the free throw stripe when they did get there. The Texas offense looked stagnant with little movement and no clear attack. If tonight's opponent was just about any other team, the Longhorns lose. It was that bad.
Maybe tonight was a New Jersey hangover, maybe it was due to Thanksgiving, maybe it was a lack of focus. I have no idea. However, this was the least impressive performance of the season.
This late-November and December stretch is about learning to defend and play as a team, about sharpening our offensive sets, and about helping the freshman adjust to big time college basketball. Other than McClellan and Holmes, none of that occurred against Sam Houston.
Texas is back in action on Tuesday night as they host North Texas at 7 pm.