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Texas soars over Grand Canyon, 98-60, behind incredible first-half performance

Shaka Smart’s team scored more points in the first half than it did in the loss to Radford by shooting nearly 70 percent.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN, Texas — Arguably the best half of basketball all season for the Texas Longhorns created massive separation against the Grand Canyon Antelopes to provide all the margin necessary for a 98-60 victory on Saturday evening at the Erwin Center.

“We got hit in the mouth,” Grand Canyon head coach Dan Majerle said. “This is a team that’s always fought back, but tonight, it just wasn’t in the cards. Credit goes to Texas, for sure.”

The shooting cooled off slightly to end the first half, but the Horns still ended the opening 20 minutes hitting 68.8 percent from the field and 58.8 percent from three-point range. Defensively, Texas forced seven turnovers and blocked four shots.

Four players finished the first half without missing a shot — sophomore guard Matt Coleman, senior guard Kerwin Roach II, freshman forward Jaxson Hayes, and junior guard Elijah Mitrou-Long — led by Roach’s 12 points. The 22 baskets came on 15 assists, with Hayes scoring on three alley-oop dunks. The ball wasn’t sticking, the players all made good decisions about when to pass, drive, or shoot, and the spread pick-and-roll game was producing points in the paint.

Texas cooled off some in the second half, but still finished shooting 58.7 percent from the floor and 53.3 percent from beyond the arc.

“When Texas plays like that and shoots like that, they can beat anyone in the country,” Majerle said.

Head coach Shaka Smart showed the team video of them making shots in shootaround, which Roach said provided some good vibes before the game.

Roach was not in the starting lineup because he was late to a film session. In his place, junior guard Elijah Mitrou-Long received his second start with the Longhorns on his 22nd birthday.

The move paid off early, as Mitrou-long created a jumper for himself in the early going and found sophomore forward Jericho Sims open on the baseline for a dunk. A high-usage player at Mount St. Mary’s before transferring to Texas, Mitrou-Long played his best game for the Horns in his first start, scoring a game-high 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He added four assists and made all three of his three-point attempts.

Sophomore guard Jase Febres matched the 16 points of Mitrou-Long thanks to 4-of-10 shooting from three-point range. And freshman guard Courtney Ramey played one of his most complete games of the season, scoring 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting and dishing out eight assists to lead the team. All told, five players scored in double digits in the balanced effort.

The Horns got off to a strong start, using three offensive rebounds to clean up the only misses on the first eight shots to score on each of the first four possessions to take an 11-6 lead into the under-16 timeout.

When Roach entered the game, he made an immediate difference, hitting a three from the corner, driving baseline for a finish through contact, and then using a Euro step in transition to score with his left hand on a drive from the right side of the court.

By the time that the under-12 timeout mercifully came for the Antelopes, the lead was 26-11 thanks to the scalding shooting from the Horns — Texas made 11 of its first 16 shots, including four of its first seven three-point attempts. While the offense was humming, the defense solid, with Hayes providing the highlight with a two-handed block at the rim.

The defense kicked into high gear at that point. The Horns blocked two more shots, forced a turnover with the full-court press, and got a dunk for Roach in transition thanks to a steal. By the under-eight timeout, Grand Canyon had five turnovers. Hitting 6-of-10 free-point attempts was the only thing keeping Majerle’s team in the game.

And then even that wasn’t enough, as Texas continued to pour in shots from distance — nine by the time that Majerle called a timeout with 4:14 remaining — to stretch the lead to 49-24. The defense continued to play a big role, as the full-court press continued to flummox the Grand Canyon ball handlers and the presence of Sims and Hayes at the rim was too difficult to finish over.

The Longhorn didn’t shoot as well offensively, nor play as well defensively, in the second half, but by that point it was merely academic — a chance for Smart to coach his team up a little bit and for players like sophomore forward Royce Hamm Jr. and freshman forward Gerald Liddell to get some burn. Hamm was active scoring seven points in seven minutes.

Even the walk ons got some action in the closing seconds thanks to a foul committed intentionally by Ramey. Junior guard Drayton Whiteside drew some of the biggest cheers when he drained a three pointer off the dribble when a Grand Canyon player lost his balance.

The Texas bench went wild, too.

Texas returns to the hardwood at home against Providence on Dec. 21 at 8 p.m. Central on ESPN2.

This story has been updated.