After being down for much of the game, the Texas Longhorns came back with a second half run to beat Long Beach State, 71-65. Evan Payne led all scorers with 26 points, scoring most of his points on eight three-pointers. Tevin Mack and Eric Davis scored 18 and 16, respectively, for Shaka Smart’s team.
The Texas Longhorns got off to a rough start in the first half. Evan Payne and Long Beach State did not. Evan Payne was on fire early, connecting on 5-6 first half threes and putting up 17 points in the first 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, Texas struggled shooting the ball early, as we have seen in many games this season. The 49ers packed the paint, forcing the Longhorns to shoot jump shots. The result was 9-27 shooting from the floor in the half and seven turnovers as Shaka Smart’s team struggled to make things happen on offense.
There were stretches of decent offensive play in the game’s first half. Midway through the period, Eric Davis and Kerwin Roach hit back-to-back three pointers off of good ball movement. And as Texas adjusted to LBSU’s defensive approach of double-teams in the low post, the Longhorns were able to pass the ball inside out and find good looks for perimeter shooters. The result was reasonable three-point shooting in the half, as the Longhorns when 5-14 from long range, with Davis, Roach, and Yancy all striking from the outside.
On the other end of the floor Texas floundered throughout the first half. Smart’s team struggled to contain dribble penetration, and as a result Justin Bibbins and the rest of the 49ers were able to break into the Texas D over and over. This led to layups, clean looks from three for Payne, and a 34-28 first half lead for coach Dan Monson’s team.
In the second half, the Longhorns looked better prepared to attack the 49er defense. Kendal Yancy came out aggressively at the start of the period, attacking the basket. The Longhorns slowly closed the gap.
Texas eventually took control of the game during an extended run midway through the second half. Things got started when James Banks blocked a shot that initiated a Tevin Mack end-to-end layup, making the score 44-42 with 12:52 in the game. On the next possession, LBSU scored on deep post position, but Jarrett Allen struck back from the post on the next trip down the floor. After two good defensive possessions, Mack hit a three and Texas took the lead. It only held for a possession, as Noah Blackwell hit a three of his own on the other end to put the 49ers back up by two.
But the Texas offense was finding itself, finally figuring out how to work the inside-out game against LBSU’s defense that was aggressively doubling the post. On the next possession, a kick-out pass from Shaquille Cleare to Yancy led to a drive and Yancy free throws, which he sunk to tie the game. Yancy would finish the game with 11 points. Payne answered with yet another three, but Jacob Young struck back with a corner three to tie the game at 52.
On the ensuing possession, Texas would again make use of passing out of the low post, as Cleare found Kerwin Roach cutting to the rim for a layup.
During this stretch of the game, Mack and Davis both were productive. Mack’s putback of a missed Roach three was followed by back-to-back baskets from Davis, putting the Longhorns up 61-54 with 5:52 remaining.
It was a strong second half for the Longhorn offense. An additional highlight came when with a little more than four minute remaining the ball went inside to Allen. The 49ers doubled the Longhorn freshman center, who kicked the ball out. The Longhorns quickly reversed the ball around the perimeter against a scrambling LBSU defense to find a wide open Tevin Mack standing in the opposite corner. Mack did his part, nailing the shot.
Texas would hold on to the win, icing the game late with free throws.
- Eric Davis played his best game of the season. He scored 16 points on 4-8 shooting from the floor while making 5-6 from the free throw line. For a Texas team that really needs someone to hit shots, Davis’ game was a big help in keeping the Longhorns from taking a bad loss at home.
- Texas’ small lineup came up big in the second half. My intention is to write something about this for next week, as Texas’ small lineups have significantly outperformed other player groupings during the season so far.
- The Texas Longhorns only turned the ball over in 14 percent of their possessions, and went 9-25 (36 percent) from three point range. When these two things happen this season, the Texas offense will be fine.
- There is no more important player for Texas right now than Tevin Mack. Aside from being the Longhorns’ most effective offensive player, Mack’s ability to play in the front court is critical for enabling Shaka Smart to play his smaller lineups. Mack’s improvement over last year is substantial.
- While Texas came away with the win, we still have to be honest with ourselves about where this team is right now. While Long Beach State’s 2-10 record says as much about its impossibly difficult non-conference schedule as anything (this is something that LBSU does every year), the truth is that LBSU isn’t all that good of a team. Neither is Texas; despite the win Ken Pomeroy’s predictive system slightly downgraded the Longhorns after the game.
The Longhorns are off for finals week. They play next Saturday against a solid Arkansas squad that has started off the season 8-1.