A strong start and important finish in the first half paved the way for a second half that featured the Texas Longhorns outscoring the High Point Panthers by 19 points for an 89-56 victory in the Erwin Center on Monday in the final tuneup before conference play begins on Saturday.
With two changes to the starting lineup, the Longhorns benefited from an injury to the leading scorer for the Panthers and took care of business against a young team that ranks among the worst in the country in KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric.
Junior guard Jase Febres was one of five players to score in double digits for the Horns, leading the way with 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting from three-point range. Despite some foul trouble in the first half, junior forward Jericho Sims added 12 points and 11 rebounds for a double-double.
The first half featured three distinct stretches of play. During the opening stretch, High Point struggled shooting and Texas got off to a hot start offensively, leading 19-6 at the under-12 timeout. During the middle stretch, the Longhorns got into foul trouble in the frontcourt, resulting in frequent trips to the free-throw line for the Panthers. After an offensive foul on Texas and a subsequent layup for High Point, the lead was cut to three points with 5:43 remaining. Fortunately for head coach Shaka Smart, the Horns responded by outscoring the visitors by nine points to end the first half with a 41-29 lead.
High Point only shot 32 percent in the opening 20 minutes, but thanks to two fouls called on six different Texas players, the Panthers shot 16 free throws and finished with a nine-point advantage from the line.
Smart did get important contributions from sophomore forward Kamaka Hepa in the first half — the Alaska native started in place of sophomore forward Gerald Liddell and played 16 minutes after seeing limited action since the season opener. Hepa’s five points weren’t especially impressive, but he came up with five rebounds, including two on the offensive glass, kept the ball moving with three assists, and blocked two shots. And, unlike the other Texas bigs, he was able to play defense without fouling.
The second half continued to feature runs by both teams, with the Longhorns stretching the lead to 20 in the early moments thanks to effective offensive execution before the Panthers rallied thanks to Texas mistakes on defense. High Point cut the lead to 12 after Hepa gave up a four-point play. When the Longhorns responded defensively with a steal and a block, Matt Coleman capitalized with two layups to force Tubby Smith to call a timeout.
Texas continued the onslaught, eventually going on a 16-2 run thanks to holding High Point without a made field goal for over five minutes. The highlight of the run’s final stretch were two threes from Febres in the midst of an efficient performance. At the under-12 timeout, the Horns held a 22-point lead and then continued to stretch it to a high of 35 points.
In a sign of how things went for Texas in the second half, a transition lob attempt was deflected, but fell right into the hands of Courtney Ramey to finish in rhythm at the rim. Even Febres got into the action on the fast break, making a tough layup on the left side on the following Longhorns possession as the lead went to 27 points.
As Texas went up by 35 in the second half, Jericho Sims featured a +/- of 40 thanks to 12 points on seven shots and 11 rebounds, continuing his run of largely consistent play this season — the Longhorns were clearly a different team when he was on the court in the first half. A primary culprit was Will Baker, who only played two minutes in the first half, but was -9 thanks to his poor defense. His stint with the game out of reach was better — -1 in four minutes — but he still clearly has a long way to go to contribute during Big 12 play.
And that’s still the primary takeaway for a team that enters the new decade with only one strong non-conference win and a projected 7-11 conference record that likely won’t be good enough to make the NCAA Tournament.