AUSTIN, Texas — The No. 18 Texas Longhorns used 19-0 and 12-0 runs against the Incarnate Word Cardinals to open up a 48-17 lead at halftime before cruising to a 88-56 win in the 2023-24 season opener at the Moody Center.
Five players scored in double digits for the Longhorns, led by senior guard Ithiel Horton’s 17 points and a team-high three made three-pointers. Five players also had three or more assists as Texas shared the ball well as a team with 20 assists on 32 made baskets and shot well as a result, hitting 50.8 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from beyond the arc.
“We want to share that basketball,” said Texas head coach Rodney Terry. “Our goal going into every game is 18 or more assists. We want that ball moving, we don’t want it sticking — 0.5 seconds in your hands. We don’t need you to dribble, dribble, dribble, we need you to pass that ball, make a decision, move it.
Against an outmatched opponent that ranked No. 355 out of 362 teams in KenPom.com’s preseason projections, it’s hard to take away too much from the Texas blowout victory as it pertains to what the team might look like come Big 12 play, but it was an overwhelmingly positive start, especially compared to the lackluster first half in last week’s exhibition game against Division II St. Edward’s.
Here are three takeaways from the easy win.
The Texas defense was locked in during the first half
As calm as Terry was when he met with the media last Monday after the exhibition game — his typical manner — he was surely more animated at halftime during that game and in practice in the days after considering his emphasis on his program playing high-level defense.
Texas came out with much-improved defensive intensity in the opener, forcing UIW to miss its first six shots before forcing eight straight misses later in the first half as the Cardinals only shot 20.6 percent from the field and 10 percent from three while turning the ball over 11 times.
“We were pointing switching, coming together, pointing, switching, talking,” said Horton. “I think we had eight kills in the first half, so our defense was really clicking.”
With five blocks and seven steals, the Longhorns weren’t just forcing missed shots, they were creating turnovers and getting out in transition in scoring 21 fast-break points in the opening 20 minutes.
“We’re a work in progress. We will be the first part of the year but again, trying to establish an identity that we want to try to guard really hard and try to get out and play to our strength in transition,” said Texas head coach Rodney Terry.
Terry said later in his post-game press conference that he gives the offense seven seconds of freedom at the start of a possession to score as a reward for playing hard on defense.
“It’s a give and take in terms of sitting down and guarding, but I do think a strength of our team will be as getting out and playing in transition because we have guys that can run the floor and we have guys that can also stretch the floor in transition,” said Terry.
As a group, this Texas team is well balanced with athleticism, toughness, and some quality length across the group — they can get into people on the perimeter, they can jump passing lanes, and they can block and alter shots. The only real question is the upside when senior forward Dylan Disu returns.
Horton wasn’t as happy with the defense in the second half, however, as the Longhorns allowed 39 points and the Cardinals shot 40 percent from the floor.
“Second half, I think that’s just us as a team maturing — if we want to be the best defense in the Big 12, we‘ve got to keep our foot on they neck regardless of if we are up by 30 or 40,” he said.
Kadin Shedrick can be a difference-maker for this team
The Virginia transfer posted modest numbers for the Cavaliers, even adjusted for contributions per 40 minutes, but there was evidence he could develop into a larger role for the Longhorns, exactly Terry’s vision despite Shedrick rehabilitating from a shoulder injury during the offseason.
Shedrick showed major signs of paying off that belief in his debut for Texas as a difference-maker on both ends of the court, turning a steal into a dunk, finding sophomore forward Dillon Mitchell with a sweet pass for a cutting dunk, and starting a fast break with a block that ended in another dunk for Mitchell.
“When I got out there at first, everything was going so fast. It’s been a while, it’s actually my first time really going up and down more than one trip. So, probably the steal into the dunk,” Shedrick said when asked about when he felt healthy and in the flow again.
“I did that a few times last year and those feel the best to me when you’re able to create coast-to-coast points like that. So I got an immediate timeout from Incarnate Word and guys are hyping me up when I come back to the huddle. That felt good, so that’s when I realized, I’m going to be alright.”
“I had a little pass to him coming down the middle for a dunk, so hopefully we get to see that a lot more this year,” Shedrick said when asked about playing with Mitchell.
With Disu still sidelined, the Longhorns desperately need Shedrick’s defensive rebounding and he came through by leading the team in defensive rebounding rate even though he only had five rebounds. Shedrick’s shot blocking is a key element of his game, too, and he was officially credited with three blocks while providing an even greater presence altering shots when he was on the court.
But the rebounding and shot blocking were known aspects of Shedrick’s game. Where he showed some real growth was with his back to the basket, converting a left-handed hook from the block, drawing a foul on a similar move, and leading the team with seven free-throw attempts. From the field, Shedrick converted all three of his attempts.
“When I watched him in the portal, I said, ‘This is the big guy we have to get right here,’” said Terry. “He’s a mobile big guy who can run the floor, extremely talented, a lot of guys in this league and the ACC spoke very, very highly of him. Several of those teams in his league wanted him as well. You just want those guys who can be a game changer for you. He’s a guy that affects the game on the defensive end of the floor, he’s an elite rim protector. Right now you won’t see that for the first part of the season because I really just want him to be a wall-up guy until he gets his feet under him a little bit.”
Texas mostly protected the ball better
The 15 turnovers and a 21.7-percent turnover rate in an exhibition against a Division II team were much too high given the competition level, although the Hilltoppers were good last year at their level, certainly have experience, and boast some Division I transfers.
With four turnovers, the biggest negative was sophomore guard Tyrese Hunter, who had similar struggles against St. Edward’s in turning the ball over five times and may be experiencing some growing pains as he transitions into a bigger playmaking role, but the 13 turnovers and a 18.1-percent turnover rate were both acceptable numbers against an opponent like UIW since the margin was so big for so much of the game, which wasn’t the case last week.
From Monday to Monday, the player who improved the most with his decision making was sophomore forward Dillon Mitchell with three assists and only one turnover after four turnovers last week — the high-flying returnee played within himself and didn’t try to force the action like he did in the exhibition and was an efficient 4-of-6 shooting from the field as a result, although he did continue to struggle from the free-throw line, missing all three attempts. Another positive sign? Mitchell finished with a team-high plus-minus of plus-38.