AUSTIN, Texas — A sluggish start from the field gave way to a major second-half surge for the Texas Longhorns, who used a 16-0 run over six minutes beginning with 12:09 remaining to pull out a 65-55 victory over the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks in a flawed performance.
However, that six-minute stretch was enough for the Longhorns to move to 3-0 on the season after largely playing even with the Warhawks throughout the rest of the game.
During the game-deciding run, Texas was able to force turnovers and swarm Louisiana-Monroe defensively and get to the basket on offense, including in transition. That stretch included a put-back dunk by senior guard Kerwin Roach II when sophomore guard Matt Coleman missed a layup in transition, Osetkowski finished through contact and finished his And-1 at the line, and Roach made another layup.
A timeout by Louisiana Monroe didn’t help much, as Roach got a steal and fed Mitrou-Long for a layup in transition and suddenly the game was wide open. By the time that Roach fed Hayes for a thunderous dunk, Texas had opened up a 16-point lead thanks to 16 straight points.
When the under-eight timeout finally arrived with 5:20 remaining and the Horns came out with a steal and basket by Ramey, the lead was up to 61-46 and Texas had hit 13-of-24 attempts in the second half, along with 4-of-5 attempts at the free-throw line.
The Longhorns ultimately finished 15 of 30 from the field in the second half.
Roach led head coach Shaka Smart’s team with 13 points, while adding six assists, four rebounds, and two steals. In the front court, senior forward Dylan Osetkowski added 12 points and 10 rebounds, while avoiding any turnovers after turning the ball over nine times combined in the first two games. Freshman Jaxson Hayes continued to make highlight plays, finishing with 11 points and three of the team’s five blocks.
Once again, the Longhorns got off to a slow start, missing seven of the first eight shot attempts of the game, including three shots at the rim — two by Roach and one by sophomore forward Jericho Sims. Three of those misses came from beyond the three-point shot, open looks that the team simply couldn’t knock down.
Through the first seven minutes, Texas had put up two airballs — one from sophomore guard Jase Febres and another from junior guard Elijah Mitrou-Long — but found some success from distance, as Osetkowski and freshman guard Courtney Ramey both knocked down long-range shots.
Forcing turnovers with some full-court pressure wasn’t an issue, as the Longhorns forced four through the first seven and a half minutes. Finding success in transition, however, was a bigger issue.
When Texas finally created a little bit of separation by hitting some shots, including two from Roach, the guards started turning the ball over trying to get the ball to the big men around the rim. Through the first two games, most of the turnovers came from those bigs, but on Monday, it was the guards making some questionable decisions.
By the under-eight timeout, for instance, all five turnovers had come from the guards — two by sophomore guard Matt Coleman, two by Roach, and one by Ramey.
More misses close to the basket hurt, too, as Mitrou-Long missed a running layup, Hayes missed the tip, and then missed another shot at the rim on a post move several minutes later.
Two zone defenses from the Warhawks, a 2-3 and a 3-2, cut down on dribble penetration and forced the Horns to make shots from beyond the arc. Louisiana Monroe also often doubled the post on the catch to force the bigs to move the ball instead of taking shots near the basket. From possession to possession, head coach Keith Richard alternated between man and zone defenses in an effort to keep the Longhorns from establishing any rhythm.
It worked, at least in the first half, as Richard said that he hadn’t run those zone defenses in either of the previous two games.
“I thought at times tonight it was pretty good and maybe should have tried it a little more in the second half,” Richard said.
By the time that Smart called a timeout with 4:32 remaining in the first half, Texas was a brutal 6-of-25 from the field (24 percent) and 4-of-14 from the three-point line (28.6 percent). At the free-throw line, the Longhorns had made 2-of-4 attempts, with Coleman missing the front end of a one-on-one. Out of the timeout, Hayes was fouled and split his trip.
Texas played its best basketball of the first half around that stretch, as Louisiana Monroe struggled with the full-court pressure from the Horns, ultimately turning the ball over nine times in the first half.
Coleman made his first basket from the field in over 40 minutes of court time and Hayes sandwiched two dunks around a layup by Osetkowski.
A sensational finish to the half by Warharks star forward Travis Munnings, however, kept the Longhorns from heading into a halftime with a lead larger than a point, as Munnings made two threes in the final minutes and finished the half with 15 points. At 6’6 and 200 pounds, the senior was too quick for the bigs to guard in the fist half.
However, Munnings went cold in the second half, missing all seven of his shots and turning the ball over three times, in part because Texas moved to a zone defense that was highly effective and in part because the Horns moved Roach over on Munnings.
Out of halftime, Coleman looked more aggressive, getting into the paint and scoring on a floater on the first possession, then driving baseline and dishing to Osetkowski, who drew a foul as he went up to score near the basket.
Sims also looked more aggressive — he’s appeared out of sorts at times to start the season. Battling hard on the offensive glass earned him some opportunities, as did a nice roll to the basket that resulted in a flush. Ultimately, though, he struggled with foul trouble throughout.
The most aggressive player in the stretch before the under-12 timeout was Mitrou-Long, who scored seven points in four possessions, including a driving layup and a three pointer off the bounce with the shot clock ticking down under five seconds. After carrying a big load at Mount St. Mary’s as a creator for himself and others, Mitrou-Long may be the best player at this team in scoring points in bunches and creating his own shots.
Then the deciding run created all the needed separation for the Longhorns, as the Warhawks were bothered by the Texas zone and couldn’t score inside, turning the ball over as guards were active creating steals and the bigs blocked some shots.
After the game, Richard admitted that he told his team he wished he could do it all over again — instead of emphasizing getting the ball into the paint to score against the Texas zone, moving it to create three-point looks out of the middle.
Instead, Richard said those turnovers really helped the Longhorns, as well as hitting the role man on pick and rolls, a major emphasis for Smart’s team with the finishing ability of players like Sims and Hayes.
“We needed not to give up any layups to have a chance to win,” Richard said.
Texas also benefited from the Warhawks going away from doubling the post on the catch. Richard thought his team was getting a little bit tired, so when the Longhorns threw the ball out of the post and swung it to create an open three pointer late in the first half, Richard knew that his rotations weren’t going to be able to hold up in the second half using that strategy.
Shooting remains a massive problem, though, as Texas hit only 6-of-25 three-pointers, but the Horns did force 16 turnovers and scored 11 fast-break points compared to only four for the Warhawks.
Once again, it was a flawed performance for the Longhorns and indicative of a team still trying to find its identity.
Still, it’s all about winning and trying to improve every game. Right now, the Horns are showing more aptitude at the former than the latter, but it’s still early.