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Takeaways from Texas’ 71-59 season-opening win over Eastern Illinois

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There were several positive takeaways from Texas’ 12-point win over Eastern Illinois.

Eastern Illinois v Texas Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images

On Tuesday evening, the Texas Longhorns returned to the hardwood for a season-opening meeting with the Eastern Illinois Panthers.

Though you never want to take too much away from just one game, and specifically, the first outing of the season, here are a few encouraging takeaways from Texas’ 71-59 win.

Andrew Jones is back, folks

First things first: Andrew Jones is back! After missing much of last season after being diagnosed with leukemia in early January, the junior returned to the hardwood on Tuesday night, checking in with 11:40 remaining in the second half to a standing ovation.

However, it was as if he hadn’t missed a moment. On his first defensive series, Jones knocked the ball loose to force a jump ball. Just moments later, he leaped out of bounds to save a loose ball, and did so without his shoe. Shortly thereafter, his defense in a full-court press forced a steal, and then before heading to the bench with 9:16 to play, Jones was fouled on an elusive drive to the rim and converted his second of two free throw attempts to register his first point of the season. Within a matter of just a bit more than two minutes, Jones’ presence, which Texas lacked so severely at times last season, was apparent on numerous possessions. Jones finished with eight minutes of action.

Freshman Jaxson Hayes impresses in debut

On Monday, Shaka Smart said freshman forward Jaxson Hayes won’t be a secret much longer. On Tuesday night, his cause for praise became apparent, as Hayes impressed as much, if not more than any other Longhorn during his debut. Hayes was tremendously active on both ends of the glass, blocking shots that led to transition opportunities, such as a pair of volleyball spike-esque rejections that sparked transition scoring opportunities; one of which led to a Matt Coleman and-one and another that saw Hayes rewarded with a quick connection from fellow freshman Courtney Ramey for a dunk.

You never want to make too much of a single game, especially when it’s the first game of the season against Eastern Illinois, but Hayes looked better than advertised and it seems clear that at the least, he’ll see more than his fair share of minutes this season. Hayes finished as the team’s second-leading scorer with 12 points on 5-of-9 from the field, along with four rebounds and two blocks.

The freshmen, in general, looked good

In addition to Hayes putting forth a praiseworthy debut, Courtney Ramey enjoyed a fairly remarkable first appearance. The headliner of Smart’s 2018 class flashed a polished offensive skillset as a flashy ball handler and playmaker, and more notably, he played with composure throughout en route to seven points, six assists, three rebounds, and only one turnover. Kamaka Hepa, too, appeared composed and confident in his debut, connecting from deep on his first collegiate attempt, despite facing considerable defense, and later added another three late in the second half to finish with six points on 2-of-3 from the field. In limited minutes, Gerald Liddell looked aggressive offensively, which wasn’t always the case at Cibolo Steele, so that was a positive sign for someone who will have to fight for playing time.

Elijah Mitrou Long should prove to be a welcomed addition

After sitting out last season, former Mount St. Mary’s transfer guard Elijah Mitrou-Long hit the ground running in his first outing as a Longhorn. Long was tremendously active on both ends of the floor, registering three steals and drawing a charge on defense. On the other end of the floor, his presence as a secondary ball handler and additional scorer was a welcomed sight for sore eyes after last season, as Long found a total of nine points from all three areas of the court. Furthermore, Long added six rebounds and six assists to his stat line, and committed just one turnover.

Texas emphasized the press and it was effective

Since Smart’s arrival, fans have clamored for more of the press defense that made him such a popular coaching candidate in 2015, and after an offseason of emphasizing the press, Texas saw some results in its season-opener. By my count, Texas full-court press was directly to credit for causing eight turnovers: two 10-seconds calls, a travel, a steal on an inbounds pass and another off of a deflection, five total steals, including two on back-to-back series. As Smart has said in the past, successfully pressing becomes more difficult when dealing with more proficient ball handlers, but if Texas can continue to build upon that area following its debut, several spurts of the pressing style fans have craved may be finally set to come to fruition this season.

Other Texas tidbits

  • Coleman looked impressive, commanding the offense with confidence and doing so efficiently — this was the case often times last season, but even more so on Tuesday. Coleman was the first Longhorn in double figures on the scoreboard, and led the team with 13 points, hitting a pair of threes along the way. He also totaled seven assists.
  • Texas’ perimeter shooting is still a work in progress, to say the least, but at the very least, several Longhorns appeared capable of connecting from deep. Coleman (2-5), Long (1-4), and Hepa (2-3) each connected on threes, with sophomore Jase Febres leading the way with nine points on a 3-of-6 display from deep. Connecting more consistently will be key, but more times than not, nearly everyone on the floor will at least be capable of hitting threes.
  • The offense as a whole could have afforded to be more consistent, but that’s to be expected throughout the first game of the season. What was notable, however, was the energy and activity on offense, as the ball moved around tremendously well most times — likely a byproduct of multiple ball handlers and facilitators sharing the floor. Considering that often times last season, Texas was a team that saw four guys standing around while Coleman dribbled, this could open up countless scoring opportunities throughout the season.