Less than a minute into Tuesday’s Maui Invitational game between the No. 17 Texas Longhorns and the Indiana Hoosiers, Texas junior guard Courtney Ramey hit a three-pointer to give the Longhorns a 3-0 lead.
Head coach Shaka Smart’s team never looked back, leading from buzzer to buzzer in a blowout 66-44 victory that earned the Horns a shot at the Maui Invitational championship on Wednesday against the winner of No. 14 North Carolina and Stanford at 3 p.m. Central on ESPN.
For a second straight game, Texas struggled to defend without fouling, putting multiple players in foul trouble by halftime.
Freshman forward Greg Brown III wasn’t able to play through those difficulties, fouling out in 12 minutes thanks to two offensive fouls. Brown finished with two points on 1-of-4 shooting with three turnovers and missed three more three-point attempts. To open his freshman season, Brown has not made an attempt from beyond the arc on 10 shots.
Given the difficulties avoiding whistles and the struggles by Brown, in addition to poor three-point shooting by the Horns — 28 percent on 25 attempts — it was remarkable that Texas was able to come out with such a lopsided win.
One key was the performance on the defensive end, as Texas held Indiana to 23.9-percent shooting from the field, the school’s worst shooting performance in at least 10 seasons.
Long periods of the game without field goals helped sink Indiana.
In the first half, head coach Archie Miller’s team went 7:50 without a field goal, allowing Texas to turn a two-point lead into a 29-15 margin. In the second half, the Hoosiers went without field goals for stretches of 5:34 and 6:10. So Indiana went 11:44 with only one field goal as Texas stretched a 38-27 lead to 58-34.
“We’ve got capable guys,” Smart said. “If we can improve defending without fouling, we can be even better. I told the guys yesterday after the game that we didn’t necessarily lead with our defense. Today we led with our defense and that’s what our identity has to be.”
Senior guard Matt Coleman is providing the identity on offense, helping spur multiple runs against Indiana and finishing with 16 points to lead the team. After entering the game with 14 assists against only four turnovers through the first two games, Coleman turned the ball over four times against the Hoosiers, but was critical in providing a 22-9 advantage in fast-break points.
Coleman’s steal and finish following Ramey’s three-pointer to open the game set the tone. Midway through the first half, Coleman found redshirt sophomore guard Brock Cunningham on the break for a three-pointer, drew a foul on the fast break and made both free throws, found Cunningham again for a three, this time in the halfcourt, then turned a turnover into a fast-break three shortly before halftime.
After halftime, it was Coleman who once again helped Texas create more separation — over a stretch of 3:40, the senior point guard scored three times on layups, including one in transition, to ensure that Indiana couldn’t make a run.
If Coleman provided the speed and playmaking, Cunningham provided the grit and hustle. In his post-game press conference, Smart said he couldn’t wait to see the numerous hustle plays that Cunningham put on film, calling it one of his favorite pastimes. Even when the game was out of hand late in the second half, Cunningham hustled for a steal, passed up an open three-pointer, and found redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones in the corner. Jones, who struggled to a 2-of-10 shooting performance, was able to hit the shot to find some rhythm in a game during which it was severely lacking for Jones.
Cunningham has accepted his role on offense as a spot-up shooter in the corner, hitting two of his three attempts against Indiana, but it’s his other contributions that loom so large. The Westlake product led the team with 11 rebounds, including three on the offensive end, and added four assists and three steals.
“Brock is one of those guys that you love playing with, but you hate playing against,” Coleman said. “He’s gonna give you extra possessions. He’s gonna make open shots. And he’s just going to fly around. He fits perfect into how we want to play. You love playing with him.”
As Texas continues to develop its identity on both ends of the court, Coleman and Cunningham are two key pieces who demonstrated their respective values on Tuesday for a group that still has plenty of room to improve overall.