After falling behind early and going into half time down 45-31, the Texas Longhorns staged a furious second half comeback and beat South Alabama 84-77. Texas was led by Jonathan Holmes, who scored 23 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and blocked two shots. Augustine Rubit scored 22 points for the Jaguars.
Matthew Groves' team came out firing early. Rubit set the pace, scoring the first nine points for South Alabama, and then Antoine Allen kept things going, shooting 4-5 from three point range in the first half. The Texas defense didn't put up much resistance, spending much of the first half switching between 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones, as the patient Jaguars found wide open looks from three point range.
Of course, not all of those looks were quite so open. South Alabama also hit a significant number of difficult and contested shots. They did not discriminate easy and hard looks. At the half, Goves' squad had hit ten three point shots, and had built a substantial lead.
Shortly before half-time, Rick Barnes dumped the zone, and Texas spent the rest of the game in man-to-man defense. It was a switch that more or less took away the open looks from three, but the Jaguars, and Rubit in particular, continued to hit difficult jump shots all game long.
But Jonathan Holmes and Isaiah Taylor saved the day. The second half comeback was driven by the furious pace of the Texas Longhorns. Taylor and Javan Felix, who at one point in the second half had to leave the game because he had bitten through his tongue (yuck!), pushed the ball up the floor at every chance. Taylor and Felix were able to get to the rim, and also were able to find Holmes for open looks from three (the junior forward was 4-7 from long range).
Still, each time Texas pulled the game to within six, the Jaguars found a way to push the lead back to double figures. It often involved difficult shot making.
But eventually your ability to hit those shots runs out. The Texas comeback was complete when Demarcus Holland found Taylor for a layup with 4:10 remaining. The game went back and fourth for a few possessions, before a terrible goaltending call on South Alabama forward Mychal Ammons put the game out of reach.
Some notes from the game:
1. Augustine Rubit is a grown man. But if you read our game preview, you already knew that. A burly, yet agile, 6-7 forward, Rubit can do a bit of everything. He is tough on the glass. He can post up, or face the basket and beat his man off the dribble. And he can really shoot. Perhaps he is a little bit on the small side, but he has an NBA skill set.
2. If Jonathan Holmes is now going to finally fulfil his potential as an athletic forward who can also stretch the defense with his shot, then this year could be a bit more fun than we had expected. Both he and Connor Lammert appear to be among Rick Barnes' better shooters. Having two big men who can hit open threes helps an offense that is short on guards with an outside shot.
Holmes did more than just shoot tonight. He was also flying around the floor on defense, getting rebounds, blocking shots, deflecting passes, and generally creating mayhem. It was an all around game that was so good that I will excuse the couple of times he took shots that he should not have.
3. For those of you who haven't seen this team play yet because you can't watch the Longhorn Network, Isaiah Taylor is a lot of fun to watch. He is tough to stay in front of and knows how to get to the basket, which from my perspective is one of the most important abilities a perimeter player can have. When he reaches the rim, he can finish with either hand. He is outstanding at pushing the ball up the floor; for a team that sometimes is going to struggle to score in half-court, it helps when you can run.
But the thing I like the most about Taylor is that he can do all of this while still playing under control. Tonight, he turned the ball over a few more times than I would like, but several of his turnovers were frankly just terrible calls by the officials. With Taylor attacking the basket, Lammert and Holmes hitting perimeter shots, and Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh now looking a bit more comfortable on offense, this iteration of the Longhorns is going to have a much easier time scoring the ball.
4. Both Ridley and Ibeh played well. They both had their hands full with one of the better players (and more difficult match-ups) that they will face this year. (Yes, Rubit is that good.) Ibeh, in particular, did nice work guarding Rubit down the stretch in the second half. From the 15 minute mark on, Rubit only scored two points. When Rubit tried to take Ibeh away from the basket and attack him off the dribble, the Texas sophomore handled himself well, and didn't give any easy looks.
5. Finally, that was just a poorly officiated game. It was impossible to tell what was a foul and what was not. Taylor would get hammered on offense, and get nothing, and then would commit a touch foul the next trip down the court. There was Taylor's phantom travel on a spin move in transition and an illegal dribble call on a move that I don't think has been made since 1975. Those were both bad calls, but the most inexcusable and obviously wrong call of the night was the goaltending call on Ammons down the stretch. I don't think anyone looking at that play in real time, other than the official who made the call, thought that was goaltending. The replay confirmed just how horrific of a call it was.
Texas next faces Stephen F. Austin on Friday night. But more on them in a couple of days. For tonight, try to enjoy the comeback in what was a truly entertaining game.