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Texas salvages Shaka Smart’s homecoming, escapes with 71-67 win over VCU

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Texas refused to cruise to a win, but escaped on the right side of the scoreboard, nonetheless.

NCAA Basketball: Texas at VCU Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

On a night in which Shaka Smart returned to VCU for the first time since departing to take the job at Texas following 2014-15 season, his Longhorns didn’t let him down. The Mike Rhoades-led Rams did everything in their power to assure that would be the case, pushing Texas to the wire, but when the final buzzer sounded, the ‘Horns escaped the Siegel Center with a 71-67 win.

Much of the game wasn’t as close as the final score may indicate, although the way in which Texas won should prove to be much more valuable than the blowout that appeared in store.

Just as it has all season long, Texas jumped on top early and established a quick 14-2 edge. VCU did trim the deficit to 18-11 entering the under-12 media timeout, but the Longhorns quickly responded with a 5-0 run coming out of the break. Within moments, Texas has stretched the lead to 29-15 courtesy of 15 quick points from Andrew Jones, who nailed three of his first four attempts from deep.

As expected, VCU battled back once again, cutting the lead to just six points before Texas ultimately entered halftime with a 40-32 edge.

The second half proved to be much of the same, which was both good and bad for the ‘Horns.

A 9-4 Texas run to open the second half soon became a 13-4 run and by the under-12 media timeout, Texas was in cruise control, climbing to a 19-point lead, 57-38.

And then the Rams made a run.

Back-to-back three pointers led to way for an 8-0 VCU run, which extended into a 12-0 sprint against a noticeably flustered Texas team to close the gap to 57-50. After Mohamed Bamba stopped the bleeding with a put-back dunk that could have easily been ruled offensive basket interference, a converted Justin Tillman and-one, followed by a Tillman layup, a Marcus Santos-Silva layup and a pair of Khris Lane three pointers capped a 20-point swing, and thus, gave VCU its first lead with 3:54 to play, 63-62.

It was as if the Longhorns PK80 Invitational collapse against No. 1 Duke was being relived during Smart’s homecoming, but this time around, Texas responded.

After each team failed to find the scoreboard for the next two-plus minutes, a pair of Bamba free throws saw Texas regain its edge.

The ‘Horns didn’t relent the lead this time, courtesy of a clutch Dylan Osetkowski three pointer and Eric Davis Jr. sealing the deal from the charity stripe down the stretch.

Just like that, Smart earned his 200th career win, and did so on the court where it all began for him, and more notably, Texas notched a win in its first true road game of the season after going 0-11 last season. And while Texas can learn plenty from handing over what was a comfortable 19-point lead, the ‘Horns can learn equally as much about themselves after overcoming the adversity of momentum in a hostile road environment.

Jones led the way for Texas with 19 points, while Bamba earned his third double-double of the season with 13 points and 13 rebounds, along with four blocks and one otherworldly dunk worth writing home about.

Davis contributed 11 points off the bench and Kerwin Roach II stuffed the stat sheet with seven points, seven assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block.

Similarly, VCU saw the bulk of its point productivity come by way of just three players — Tillman, Lane and De'Riante Jenkins. Tillman scored a game-high 22 points, along with snagging 10 boards. Lane cashed in on 4-5 three point looks en route to 15 points, and Jenkins added 12 of it own.

Now 6-2 on the season, Texas will return home to host Michigan on Tuesday night.