The #25 Texas Longhorns (4-1) came out flat in the first half against Nicholls State (0-6) but won, 91-60, going away with a better effort in the second half. The Colonels were undersized, overmatched, and without their best player, Stefan Blaszczynksi, who has not played at all this season due to injury. Blaszczynksi was picked as pre-season conference player of the year in the Southland conference. Even with him, this one was going to get ugly but without his services it looked more like a controlled practice than a game.
The Horns struggled shooting the basketball in the first half. Nicholls State played almost the entire game in a sagging 2-3 zone designed to take away interior scoring. Too often in the opening minutes Texas settled for long three pointers instead of attacking the rim. The Horns also appeared to lack defensive intensity and at times effort in the opening minutes. Barnes attributed the lackluster start to the long, hard practices he put his team through over the last two days.
Texas led just 20-16 after ten minutes. Behind the hot outside shooting of AJ Abrams, Texas pulled away over the next ten and led 46-31 at the break. For the second time this season, Abrams nailed six three pointers in a half. He finished with 23 points on 7/12 shooting from behind the arc.
Also active in the first half was Jay Mason. Mason received his first collegiate start and did not disappoint. He played with the same defensive intensity that he has when coming off the bench while also contributing on the offensive end. In 25 minutes of action, Mason scored 15 points on 6/10 shooting. Most of his buckets came from slashing to the basket from the wing. With AJ content to mainly fire threes, Mason adds another option that can attack the basket and collapse the defense. I expect him to continue to start.
The Horns played much better in the second half. The defensive pressure increased which led to a quicker tempo and more Colonel turnovers. Barnes substituted regularly in the second half giving many of his bench players significant action. Most importantly Dexter Pittman saw 12 minutes of playing time. He scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds. It was reported after the game that Big Dex is now under 300 pounds. After practice on Sunday he weighed in at 297.5 lbs. It was the first time he weighed less than 300 lbs. since arriving in Austin.
Remember he showed up in June close to 370 lbs. Dropping 70 lbs in six months is quite an accomplishment. Congratulation to Pittman and to strength coach Todd Wright! Although he still looked clumsy at times and is in his words "adjusting to his new body," there is great hope that he will able to contribute 15-20 minutes by conference play.
DJ Augustin contributed eight assists to just three turnovers. It wasn't his best performance though. He was lazy a few times dribbling the ball but overall was still very effective at the point. Damion James is not back yet. He played hard but didn't establish himself on the low post like we need. The effort was there but against the Colonel's zone defense there wasn't a lot of space. James did have seven points and nine rebounds in just 17 minutes of play. For Kevin Durant, it was a quiet night. At times it was easy to overlook his presence on the court. With Mason starting, Durant was moved to a post forward position for many of his minutes. He is still working to improve his game with his back to the basket but at this point his perimeter game is far superior. Durant scored a couple of nice buckets in transition by pulling up at about six feet and avoiding the charge. It felt like a quiet night but his numbers disagree: 21 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and two steals. Not bad.
Overall, I thought the Horns played a solid game. Their defense was better especially in the second half. Nicholls State shot just 34% from the floor. The Horns dominated the glass 57-29 over the much smaller Colonels. Texas converted 14 Nicholls State turnovers into 29 points. They also forced the tempo in the second half with their defense. In the half court, Texas took what the defense gave them and didn't try to force interior passes that just weren't there. Last, Coach Barnes saw glimpses of what Dexter Pittman could become. Our lack of interior depth was a pre-season concern and will remain a concern until Pittman is ready to contribute nightly.
The Horns have one week off before hosting Texas Southern on Tuesday Nov. 28th at 7 PM.