At this point in his career, Eric Davis Jr. anticipated that he’d be playing for a paycheck — reasonable aspirations for a former four-star prospect out of the talent factory that is Saginaw, Michigan.
Rather, Davis’ third season away from the high school ranks is being spent as a junior for the Texas Longhorns. Given the circumstances surrounding the program right now, that’s ideal news for Shaka Smart, who has endured his share of roster turnover since taking over in Austin ahead of the 2015-16 season. During a week that came accompanied with the news that star guard Andrew Jones has been diagnosed with leukemia and fellow guard Kerwin Roach II is out indefinitely with a fractured left hand, Davis continued his recent rise and put forth his best effort as a Longhorn to date.
On an emotional Wednesday night in Austin with No. 16 TCU in town, Jones’ and Roach’s absences made it quite clear that for Texas to steal a win, someone would have to shoulder a increased role on the perimeter. Matt Coleman rose to the occasion from the point guard spot, contributing 17 points and a career-best 12 assists, while Jase Febres and Jacob Young each added eight points of their own.
But in what proved to be a narrow one-point double-overtime win over the Horned Frogs, it was Davis who served as the ‘Horns offensive headliner, pouring on a team-best and career-high 22 points, which featured several key connections to keep Texas fighting down the stretch.
While the 22-point display on an efficient 8-15 shooting clip marked the premier performance of Davis’ career in Austin, it doesn’t seem as if it was a mere flash in the pan. Such a showing has been brewing as of late, and may become closer to the norm than not.
Considering how his junior campaign kicked off, it seemed unlikely that Davis would register his first career 20-point performance anytime soon. Through the first nine games of the season, in which Smart tinkered with a bevy of options on the wing, Davis contributed just 49 total points — a 5.4 points per game average — and converted only 5-22 three-point attempts. This stretch featured four games in which Davis registered no more than two points, including a scoreless effort in the Longhorns overtime loss to No. 1 Duke.
To make matters worse, amid a slump that stretched more than a full month to begin the season, a minor wrist injury sidelined Davis for the next two games against Louisiana Tech and Tennessee State.
Since returning from that injury, though, Davis has looked much like the four-star sharpshooter he arrived in Austin as nearly three years ago.
Beginning with a nine-point game in a win over Alabama On Dec. 22, Davis has since averaged 13 points per game throughout his last five appearances, including a jump to a 37.5 percent success rate from the perimeter.
More notably, his success during this span has proven to be the difference in wins and losses. Although Texas cruised past the Crimson Tide, Davis’ 15 points on 6-10 from the field helped lift the Longhorns over Iowa State for a 74-70 overtime victory on the road. And of course, Davis is fresh off of a career-best performance in what felt like a must-win game against TCU, which gave Texas its first ranked win since knocking off No. 3 Oklahoma on Feb. 27, 2016.
With Texas still amid the front end of the meat grinder that is Big 12 play, the ‘Horns can certainly afford much more of this new-look Davis.
Whether or not Davis can continue this level of productivity throughout a prolonged period of time remains to be seen, but for the short-handed ‘Horns, Texas can only hope his previous five games are a sign of what’s to come for the next two-plus months.