An up-and-down season for the Texas Longhorns notched another high point on Wednesday at the Erwin Center with a resounding 84-72 victory over the Baylor Bears that arguably featured the team’s most complete performance.
For a team that entered the game having played 12 contests decided by six points or less, the ability to take control of the contest early and never relent was impressive, especially considering that Baylor entered the game with a six-game winning streak. The last two victories were blowouts, but Texas was able to render standout Bears guard Makai Mason ineffectual and only trailed for 17 seconds all game.
Baylor ranks among the top 20 programs nationally in offensive rebounds per game, so keeping the Bears off the offensive glass was a major priority. Head coach Shaka Smart’s team accomplished that goal by holding Baylor under that season average.
Offensively, the big story for the Longhorns was the overall efficiency in making 55 percent from the field, led by an efficient performance by senior guard Kerwin Roach II, who scored 21 points on only nine shots. Sophomore guard Matt Coleman added 18 points and five assists, with most of those points coming during the critical first half.
Unlike numerous other games this season, Texas was able to get off to a fast start by scoring on five of its first seven possessions to take an 11-6 lead that prompted a Baylor timeout with 15:24 remaining in the first half.
The highlight was a lob from Courtney Ramey to Jaxson Hayes that required the freshman forward to use all of his 7’3 wingspan to catch the ball near the edge of the backboard and still finish with a dunk.
Hayes also scored on a post up that prompted Baylor head coach Scott Drew to quickly turn to 6’10 forward Flo Thamba.
Coming out of the timeout, Dylan Osetkowski backed down Mason and finished against the mismatch as the Bears experienced some turnover problems — Baylor committed four through the first seven minutes of the game and 14 overall.
When the Bears got into foul trouble, the Longhorns took advantage offensively by driving aggressively to the rim, ultimately generating 19 attempts in the first half. A call manufactured by Coleman on Mason finally drove Drew over the edge, as he picked up a technical foul late in the first half.
Texas left some points on the board, though, as Osetkowski missed the front end of a one-and-one and Ramey missed his two attempts courtesy of Drew’s technical. After a strong start at the foul line in Big 12 play, the Horns regressed some on Wednesday in hitting only 65 percent.
Coleman was sensational in the first half, scoring 14 points on 4-of-5 shooting while hitting all four of his free-throw attempts. In keying a second 8-0 run in the first half, Coleman rebounded a Mason miss and turned on the jets in transition to finish at the rim.
After Roach finished in the paint after sliding to avoid a charging call, the Texas lead was up to 16 points, the highest of the evening to that point. The Longhorns executed offensively, shooting 61 percent in the half, while forcing eight turnovers and limiting Mason to five points on 1-of-7 shooting by playing effective team defense. At halftime, the lead was 15 points.
In the second half, Baylor went away from Mason and mounted a comeback, cutting the Texas lead to eight points by the under-16 timeout. And then Jase Febres got hot. The sophomore guard missed his first four shots, but didn’t lose his confidence and made two huge baskets to stem the momentum and briefly boost the lead back to 14.
When Baylor cut the lead under 10 again, Roach hit a three of his own, then got away with a push off and hit a jumper in the lane. On the next possession, Coleman got out in transition and found Jericho Sims for a layup and a foul. By the time that Febres hit another three with 8:21 remaining, the lead was up to 18 and Texas had survived the push from Baylor.
After that, it was just a matter of seeing out the clock.
Now back at .500 in conference play, Texas travels to Morgantown for a winnable road game against West Virginia on Saturday at 7 p.m. Central.