After a relatively slow start in the first half, the Texas Longhorns executed at a high level offensively in the second half to outscore the Kansas State Wildcats by 17 points over the final 20 minutes in Manhattan to spark a 67-47 victory to open Big 12 play.
The Wildcats don’t have a particularly deep bench in the best of circumstances and started the conference slate without star forward Dean Wade and steady guard Kamau Stokes. Without those two players in the lineup, the Wildcats struggled offensively, hitting less than 33 percent from the field overall.
Offensively for Texas, sophomore guard Jace Febres keyed the onslaught from the Horns with his long-range marksmanship, as he set his career high with 23 points on 7-of-9 shooting from three-point range. Sophomore guard Matt Coleman pitched in with 10 points and seven rebounds, while freshman forward Jaxson Hayes continued his efficient play, scoring nine points on four shots and adding 11 rebounds and two blocks.
Against the nation’s No. 2 defense in adjusted efficiency, Texas got off to a sloppy start with four turnovers at the under-16 timeout, most of them of the careless variety. Meanwhile, senior guard Kerwin Roach II picked up two early fouls, including a push off against a trailing defender in transition. Roach eventually fouled out after scoring 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting with four assists.
The three-point shooting heated up for the Horns, with Febres hitting one from the corner in a late-clock situation and then another in transition. Freshman forward Kamaka Hepa entered the game and hit one, too, as did junior guard Elijah Mitrou-Long off an offensive rebound.
All told, Texas hit five of its first nine attempts from beyond the arc to take a 19-14 lead into the under-eight timeout. The Longhorns finished with 14-of-27 shooting from three-point range — the type of effectiveness that will almost certainly be a winning proposition for this team.
With Kansas State switching on dribble handoffs and committing weak-side defenders to taking away the Texas bigs rolling to the basket, that success was not easy to achieve at any point in the game.
On the defensive end, the Longhorns alternated between zone and man defenses to force the Wildcats into a slow start — Bruce Weber’s team hit only 6-of-19 shots to open the game, but did have success when moving the ball. Of those six baskets, five were assisted.
Unfortunately for the visiting team, it was’t able to take advantage of a long scoreless streak by Kansas State that was broken by a long make from forward Xavier Sneed to cut the 21-14 lead by three.
In the stretch that followed, Texas drew a timeout from Weber after it started to slice up the Kansas defense on dribble penetration. Coleman finished with a difficult layup in transition, Roach did the same with his off hand in the halfcourt, and Coleman produced an open look for Febres that rattled off the rim.
With a 25-17 lead with 2:46 remaining in the first half, the timeout from Weber in an effort to shore up his defense and find some answers for the Texas zone loomed a potential key turning point in the game. Could the Horns finish the half by stretching the lead or would the Wildcats battle back?
Kansas State continued to struggle finding answers against the zone, but the Texas offense stalled, too, and Roach had his pocket picked by Cartier Diarra for a half-ending slam to cut the lead to 25-22. The turnovers were a key story, as the Cats produced 14 points off of eight Longhorns turnovers.
In the second half, the Kansas State defense couldn’t keep up, as Texas did a better job penetrating towards the rim, found Hayes for some easy baskets, and hit from distance. Through the final 13 minutes of the game, the Longhorns looked as good offensively as the team has all season. As usual, that was primarily a result of making open looks, as head coach Shaka Smart’s attack has mostly struggled to take advantage of those opportunities.
Certainly, there have been times when the team hasn’t bought into the process of moving the ball, spacing correctly, and making the right reads on pick and rolls, but this team’s upside continues to hinge on the ability to make open looks. Opponents are simply committing too many resources to taking away dribble penetration and the roll man in pick-and-roll situations.
The offensively-challenged Wildcats simply couldn’t keep up, producing the lopsided outcome that should provide a solid blueprint for the Longhorns as conference play continues.
For a Texas program currently projected as a .500 team or worse in conference play, road wins and confidence-boosting performances will be key.