Texas got off to a fast start on Friday night against Stephen F. Austin, scoring the game's first 11 points, but needed another second half rally to secure a 72-62 victory over the Lumberjacks. The Longhorns tallied the game's first two points on a driving lay up by Demarcus Holland, which would be a theme for the evening, as the sophomore guard scored a team-high 21 points on 9 of 13 shooting, many of which came on slashing drives to the rim against an undersized guard.
Despite the fast start and unexpected scoring binge from Holland, Texas once again found itself trailing at the under-8 timeout of the second half, as the Lumberjacks scored consecutive buckets to open up a 54-50 lead with 7:55 to play. But just as it did against Mercer and South Alabama, this young group of Longhorns came together to completely control the game's final 8 minutes, closing out the victory on a 22-8 run, the only flaws in which were a bad foul and allowing 3 offensive boards.
Adding Friday night's performance to the numbers I detailed in the Texas Basketball Report, Texas' edge over opponents at the end of games continues to be huge, with the Longhorns having outscored the opposition 59-26, shooting 62% while limiting opponents to just 23% from the floor:
It's been impressive, even if the need to rally down the stretch to pick up these three wins speaks to the team's limitations. Particularly with the way last year's team struggled to close out games and the clear disconnect between players and coach, it's been incredibly encouraging to watch this group pull together so cohesively in crunch time. This is a young team, and a flawed team, but they play tough and play together. I've enjoyed it much in the same way I've enjoyed the way this year's football team pulled itself up off the mat.
Turning back to the particulars, although we don't want Demarcus Holland to be playing 30+ minutes come February, it's easy to focus exclusively on his limitations and overlook his assets, the strongest of which is that he does a really nice job of playing to his strengths. It's what enables him to provide meaningful value to a college roster, and why he wound up playing 36 minutes against SFA, finishing with 21 points, 5 boards, and 2 steals. He should probably never shoot a 3-pointer, but he has solid ability to penetrate and with those long arms is able to score it around the rim. Tally one for Barnes and his staff for signing Holland; he's the kind of player the 2007-09 teams desperately needed.
Beyond Holland's big evening, Javan Felix and Isaiah Taylor continue to play pretty well together. After a slow start, Felix has been steadily improving through the team's first three games, scoring an efficient 15 points on 5-8 shooting. As for Taylor, he played a facilitating role for most of the game but was nails in crunch time, stepping up to score 8 of his 10 points down the stretch.
As for the frontcourt, Texas didn't get anything offensively from either of its centers, but both Connor Lammert and Jonathan Holmes played great basketball, particularly down the stretch. More on both players in the next TBR, but for now I'll just note that this team is really going to need both players to avoid foul trouble. It's been a particular issue for Holmes since he arrived in Austin, but while he's been improving incrementally, he can and must do better, because we need him out on the floor for 30+ minutes.
All in all, tonight's victory was much like the team's first two in that Stephen F. Austin is a very solid mid-major squad, and the team impressed in its ability to finish strong and close out a win. We didn't do a good job at all when we tried running our offense through our bigs, but we had a strong plan to attack SFA's lack of size with our guards. The zone defense continues to be a weakness, but I like what we're seeing from this group in man-to-man, and we've shown an ability to run some effective 3/4-court pressure. And most importantly, we're pushing the ball up the floor looking for scoring opportunities in transition, featuring a true point guard with good instincts and a desire to run and attack.
This is going to be a fun young team to watch develop, and I'm delighted they're 3-0. Hook 'em
Next up: Houston Baptist, Monday night at 7:00 pm at the Erwin Center.