Following its disastrous performance on the road at K-State this week, Texas desperately needed a confidence booster, and that's exactly what they got in a comfortable 60-43 win over TCU, which fell to 0-8 in Big 12 play. As their record makes clear, a win over the Horned Frogs isn't anything to get excited about, but let's be honest: Longhorns sports fans aren't in any kind of position to be picky where good news is concerned.
A win was expected, but it was nice to see this young Texas team do what quality Big 12 teams have been doing to the Horned Frogs. TCU dropped its first three Big 12 road games by an average score of 62-45 -- falling 63-45 at Oklahoma State, 51-40 at Baylor, and 71-50 at West Virginia) -- right in line with the Longhorns' 17-point win tonight. And as an added bonus, no one got arrested or implicated in a scandal, and Julius Randle didn't commit to Alabama. Hey, we're at a point where good news is the absence of bad news.
Whatever the win's worth, Texas did play solid basketball tonight, scoring a highly efficient 1.07 points per possession while limiting the Horned Frogs to .77. The Longhorns were led by Ioannis Papapetrou, who after struggling against the Wildcats in Manhattan bounced back to deliver his best overall game of the season. Papi was out on the floor for a team-high 34 minutes, stuffing the stat sheet with 13 points, 9 boards, 3 assists, 2 blocks and a steal, with just a single turnover. And after making both his free throws tonight the Greek Army Knife is shooting 72% (13-18) from the stripe since Big 12 play began, much closer to the solid free throw percentage you'd expect from a player with his stroke than the 54% (25-46) he shot during the non-conference season.
Papi is struggling to be consistent as a freshman, but he's repeatedly demonstrated why I love his all-around game and think he has the most high-impact potential of any player on the roster. As he continues to hone his skills and develop better consistency, I expect him to prove every bit as valuable to halfcourt offense as a quality point guard. He's skilled, he can go either direction with the ball, he's got a pure jumper with terrific form and release, he's got great balance and timing, and most importantly of all, excellent basketball instincts. I'm also told he's the most popular player on the team and a natural leader. I'm excited to see what's ahead for Papi, and we definitely saw the good version of him tonight.
Elsewhere, Sheldon McClellan played well and led the team in scoring for the fourth time in six games, but more importantly he picked up his 15 points tonight very efficiently, on just 9 field goal attempts (6-9 overall, 1-1 3PFG, 2-3 FTs). It's encouraging to see him get more shots at the rim of late, as was the case tonight: other than a missed lay up in traffic following a steal at the end of the first half, McClellan was perfect on his other four trips to the rim, scoring 8 points with 3 made buckets and two trips to the line.
I was also pleased with the games Texas got from Connor Lammert and Demarcus Holland. Lammert led the bigs with 21 minutes and delivered on the offensive promise Rick Barnes has said he shows in practice, scoring 10 points on 5-6 shooting, including two smooth 12 footers in rhythm, a great back cut to the block for an easy deuce, and a textbook up-and-under move that he finished with a left hand finger roll.
As for Holland, he's just been a really pleasant surprise and a really nice underrated pick up by Barnes on the recruiting trail. Relatively unheralded at Naaman Forest, he probably doesn't get an offer from Texas if he hadn't been Prince Ibeh's teammate, but in scouting Ibeh, Barnes saw something in the wiry freshman -- perhaps he was reminded of another skinny, 6-3 kid who wasn't a big-time prospect in high school but wound up one of Barnes' best defenders and a solid all-around guard who could give you passable minutes at the point -- Royal Ivey. Whatever the case, he's not only exceeded my very modest expectations for him this year, but he's really proven himself to be a fast learner. There's a lot to be said for a kid who's unafraid to fail, and Holland goes out there and tries to do what the coaches are asking him to do. And in doing so, he continues to improve, which may not be obvious from tonight's box score if you focus on the scoring (0 points on 0-1 shooting), but it was the 3 assists and 0 turnovers that were more indicative of what he did well tonight. His defense was great and he really did a nice job keeping his head up and feeding the ball to the rim for easy points when opportunities were there. Holland's ability to improve as he plays is the reason we aren't playing Javan Felix 36 minutes per game anymore.
All in all, it was a good night for this Texas team. The win itself doesn't mean much, but given the timing and the way they got it done, the strong performance was welcome. The Longhorns made 23 of their 44 field goals overall (52%) and pulled it together after 3 turnovers before the first TV timeout and 6 in the first 8 minutes, with just 3 more over the game's final 32 minutes. And the defense was excellent, smothering a terrible opponent to the tune of 17 of 52 shooting (33%), including just 2 of 13 from beyond the arc (15%), with 7 blocks and 8 steals. Barnes had Texas in full court man for most of the night, but also mixed in some 2-2-1 full court pressure into halfcourt match up zone.
Speaking of Rick Barnes, it's fair for fans to ask "What have you done for me lately?" but at least for tonight, a hat tip and thanks are in order for the program's all-time winningest coach, who tonight coached his 500th game at Texas. Appropriately, it was a win, as no other Texas coach has come close to doing that as much as Barnes has, who won his 352nd at Texas and has averaged 24 wins per season since he arrived in 1998.