The first half against the Red Raiders was really just a 3rd half of the Oklahoma State game: fouls on fouls on fouls on fouls. If I recall correctly, Holmes, Holland, Lammert, and Ridley all sat out long stretches of the first half with 2 fouls apiece. Rick Barnes went heavy with the zone in response, mainly the 2-3, though silly fouls on the perimeter due to poor positioning and loose ball fouls underneath eliminated the benefit of that choice. The fouls led to another large early disparity in FT attempts, favoring the Red Raiders, though they uncharacteristically missed a good chunk of the attempts to lighten the damage, taking a 33-32 advantage into the half.
The second half featured a return to sanity for the Horns, with significantly fewer fouls and more sound defensive position. With Tech rallying late in the game, Barnes went with a bigger line-up (Ridley and Lammert down low, Holmes at the 3, and Felix and Taylor at the guard spots), letting Felix carry the team offensively down the stretch. It worked for a time around the 4 minute mark before Felix went noticeably cold, obvious following a pair of early shot clock 3-point attempts. A pair of late Cam Ridley free throws pulled Texas ahead for good, and a nice straight-up defensive play by Prince Ibeh helped seal the deal before a Jon Holmes man-rebound clinched it.
A few notes from the contest:
- Martez Walker earned his first start on the night. A curious move, and Walker isn't quite the polished scorer a player like Damarcus Croaker is. The common explanation is this being another Rick Barnes teaching moment for a player of Croaker's talent, but I'm not so sure. One thing that stuck out to me about Walker's game against the Red Raiders is he's the most willing entry passer on the roster. It's not always pretty, and he's certainly not the most polished, but he's consistently looking to feed the big men inside, including one impressive dish to a cutting Cam Ridley through the heart of Tech's zone. Walker left the game midway through the second half after taking a tumble under the basket, may be some sort of back injury.
- Prince Ibeh had the best night of the Texas bigs. When the guards aren't looking to get the ball inside (which is, not surprisingly, often), Ibeh is able to manufacture work and get production of the glass. He finished with 8 points, 8 boards, 2 blocks, and (possibly most importantly) 2 fouls. Solid game from the Prince, who continues to be a force inside on the defensive end.
- Pretty forgettable night for the rest of the Texas bigs. Connor Lammert continues to play tentatively, undermining a fine skillset as a stretch-4. Cam Ridley was mostly quiet on the night, finishing with 8 points and 4 board. Two things really set him back on the night: more foul trouble, and an inability of the Texas guards to get him the ball consistently. When they do get him the ball, he's getting to the line and found a ton of success there tonight, hitting 6 of 8 from the stripe, including the 2 big ones to pull ahead for good. Jon Holmes had a quiet 9 points, 5 boards, and 2 blocks, again getting in early foul trouble that limited his impact on the game.
- Big bounce back game from the freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor. He led the way with 14 points (5-9 shooting), 3 boards, 4 assists and 2 turnovers. He also contributed a solid 3-3 from the free throw line. He looked much more comfortable on the floor tonight than he has in Big 12 play, especially considering Tech's solid defensive ability. The signature running floater was back on display for Taylor, and he was able to find much of his work from the floor in that close mid-range game. Good to see him get a good game under his belt in conference play.
- Javan Felix continues to be the team's go-to guy down the stretch, for better or worse. The game led me to wonder if Felix is a very poor man's J'Covan Brown, for a few reasons: both were smaller (though Felix much more so than Brown) combo guards that could play point but were much more effective at the 2 spot, both could be very streaky and often took a healthy majority of their team's shots. Unfortunately for Felix, Brown was always a much more natural scorer, and a superb passer. Although his jump shot has improved substantially from last year, Felix finished with 12 points on 5-13 shooting, including 1-6 from deep. He did have some big shots down the stretch, but also had two very questionable deep shots late to help pull Tech back into the game. The problem for Felix is that not only does he take a ton of Texas's shot attempts, but most of them are 2-point jumpers. Unless he can start get more production from behind the arc, it may be better to see some of his shots make their way to a player of Damarcus Croaker's ability.
Overall, a solid, though far from perfect, effort from the growing Horns. Next up is a Monday trip to West Virginia, who is coming off a 1-point home loss to Oklahoma State.