AUSTIN, Texas — After taking a 46-41 lead into halftime, the No. 7 Texas Longhorns stormed out of the gates in the second half with six consecutive points and then a 19-0 run as the UTRGV Vaqueros were overwhelmed during the decisive stretch of an 88-58 victory for the Longhorns at the Erwin Center on Friday evening.
The Vaqueros went nearly six minutes without scoring during that run by the Longhorns and didn’t record a field goal for almost eight minutes as the Texas defense tightened. In the second half, the visitors shot 31.6 percent from the field and committed 14 of their 22 turnovers after hitting 53.6 percent from the floor in the opening 20 minutes. UTRGV only managed 17 points out of halftime as their turnover rate reached 38.9 percent.
So, what happened at halftime with the notoriously fiery Chris Beard? Was it a come to Jesus moment?
“That’s what it seemed like,” senior forward Christian Bishop said.
After working for Frank Martin at Kansas State and South Carolina, UTRGV head coach Matt Figger recognized what transpired over those 15 minutes between halves.
“Texas came out and played like a team that really got told what their head coach thought about it,” Figger said.
Throughout the game, Texas was able to frustrate UTRGV standout wing Justin Johnson, who was coming off a 33-point performance against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Longhorns forced Johnson left to his weak hand and were conscious with help defense at the rim, contributing to 3-of-11 shooting and four turnovers for the junior.
Bishop led the way offensively for the Horns with 17 points and an aggressive mindset throughout the game that helped produce nine free-throw attempts, all of which he converted.
The entire team’s emphasis on aggressively getting into the paint aided junior forward Tre Mitchell’s 13-point performance, in particular. And when the defense of the Vaqueros crashed down on Mitchell, he found open teammates, registering a game-high five assists.
The team’s overall ball movement was crisp enough to satisfy the exacting Beard — Texas finished with 19 assists on 31 made baskets with enough open threes for the Horns to convert at a 41.7-percent clip. Junior guard Brock Cunningham even got into the action, hitting both of his attempts from beyond the arc.
If the first half wasn’t a complete effort, seven of the first eight made field-goal attempts were assisted by the Longhorns. However, UTRGV was able to maintain some contact with Texas by shooting over 60 percent through the first 10 minutes of the first half, aided by 10 points from guard Mike Adewunmi, who also had a highlight-reel block of Texas senior guard Andrew Jones on a dunk attempt.
The Longhorns did extend the lead to 12 thanks to a quick 10-3 spurt sandwiched around the under-eight timeout that included consecutive threes by Cunningham and four points from Bishop.
Just before halftime, some defensive lapses allowed three layups and a made three pointer by UTRGV on a 9-0 run that cut the Texas lead to five points before Bishop stopped the bleeding by converting both free throws in a one-for-one opportunity with the Vaqueros over the foul limit. When senior guard Courtney Ramey missed both of his free-throw attempts with 40 seconds left in the half, UTRGV made a layup on an offensive rebound to cut the lead to 46-41.
Texas got off to a strong start in the first minute of the second half — senior guard Jase Febres hit two free throws after a technical foul before the half even started after a UTRGV made some apparently untoward comments about the officiating to the officials on the way into the locker room, senior forward Timmy Allen turned a steal into a quick dunk on the other end, and senior guard Marcus Carr hit a floater on a fast break to prompt a timeout by UTRGV thanks to the 6-0 run.
Just before the under-16 timeout, the second three of the game for Febres pushed the lead to 14 points, tied for the largest to that point. Seven straight points out of the timeout — a tip in by Bishop, a driving layup by Ramey, and a finish through contact at the rim by Bishop — increased the separation.
The Vaqueros needed another timeout when the run by the Longhorns reached 15-0 over 3:24, capped by a fast-break three from senior guard Andrew Jones.
An overwhelmed UTRGV team started showing signs of its frustration after a baseline double team forced a pass errant it nearly hit the halfcourt line, the fourth turnover over a five-minute stretch on the 19-0 run by Texas.
A baseline drive by sophomore guard Devin Askew created the game’s most resounding moment when his bounce pass to a cutting Mitchell resulted in a rim-rattling slam dunk after UTRGV finally broke the long scoreless.
When the Vaqueros went on a 9-0 run, senior guard Avery Benson came into the game and picked up consecutive charges, Askew drew another, and walk-on senior guard Tristen Licon hit a three to cap a much improved second half for Texas.
Beard knows that his team is still a work in progress — and the second half represented the type of team Texas wants to be — with arguably the most challenging remaining non-conference game looming against Seton Hall next Thursday in Newark, N.J.