The Horns finished their pre-season schedule in style, 103-53, over Xavier (La.). Rick Barnes' club used a big run to end the first half to pull away from the Gold Rush. Texas led 52-27 at half. Almost everyone looked better tonight than they did in last week's scrimmage. Barnes continued to use a variety of lineups but overall cohesiveness was not a problem. No player played more than 22 minutes.
Even though Xavier isn't near our level in talent or size, there are some really good things to take away from this scrimmage. The most impressive part of the game was our team defense. The Horns forced turnovers, blocked shots, and turned solid defense into easy fast break points. We are still far from the Phoenix Suns but we did score more than 50 in both halves.
The star of the night on offense was sophomore AJ Abrams. He finished with a game high 24 points, including four straight three pointers in the second half (6/7 for the game from three). Abrams again showed a remarkably quick release with his jump shot. He is also always on balance. Whether he is shooting off the dribble or in a catch and shoot situation, he looks very much in control.
Playing very solid point guard for most of the evening was DJ Augustin. Augustin looked much better with the ball and put pressure on the defense a couple of times by getting into the lane. For the second game in a row, he controlled his turnovers finishing with just one. I expect him to continue to make plays off the pass while mixing in the occasional jumper to keep defenses honest. He also led the team with five offensive rebounds. For the first time, since TJ left, I have no worries at point guard.
Kevin Durant is going to be incredible, but tonight was not one of his better performances. He seemed to be pressing a little on offense and settling too easily for the three pointer. He finished with just 11 points on 5/13 shooting. His defense was much better though. Durant was credited with seven rebounds (six defensive), five steals, and a block. If he plays defense like that, look out.
Damion James again showed some brilliance with his mid-range jumper. Tonight he looked more comfortable with his back to the basket on offense. James isn't tall enough to play on the low blocks but can be deadly from just a few feet further out. He also showed great athleticism on the boards. James had 15 points and five boards.
Connor Atchley is the ceremonial fifth starter right now. He doesn't add much on either end of the floor besides length on defense. The box score surprisingly credits him with seven rebounds though. Don't be surprised to see Matt Hill starting by the beginning of conference play. Hill runs the floor better, uses his body better to secure low post position, and maybe most importantly can rebound on both ends. He can also score without being the focal point of the offense. Both PB and I came away impressed with Matt Hill: 10 points and four rebounds in just 18 minutes. Not bad.
Jay Mason gave another solid all around performance: seven points, three rebounds, six assists, and one steal in 22 minutes. It is clear that Barnes trusts him at the point. When both Abrams and Augustin are on the bench, it is Mason with the ball in his hands. For the second outing in a row, he did all the little things that don't necessarily show up in a box score. On offense he sets good screens for better scorers and moves the ball quickly to the open man. On defense he plays good on the ball defense and also closes down passing lanes well. I expect his minutes to only increase as the season progresses.
Dexter Pittman and Harrison Smith each showed flashes of hopefully things to come. When not committing offensive fouls, Pittman secured deep low post position. On one occasion his hard work led to an easy one handed slam. Smith is a scorer and hit a couple of open threes in the second half. His intensity on defense looked better too.
Aside from individual efforts, it was the team defense that was most impressive. Texas forced 24 turnovers, grabbed 15 steals, and blocked nine shots. Texas had 38 points off turnovers and 18 fast break points. Xavier was held under 40% for the game and was dominated on the glass. Texas won the rebounding battle 49-27. Barnes has always been a defense first coach. After just two scrimmages, it appears that the Horns are listening.
First Game of the Year: Alcorn State Thursday 8:30 PM Erwin Center.