[Updated at 11:15 a.m., minor copy edits]
For about 15 minutes UT-Arlington kept the game interesting. That is, until Texas’ firepower became too much.
The Longhorns, a squad full of scoring threats, found their shot from an unlikely source. Freshman Sheldon McClellan had played quietly well throughout the season, but had a 23 point, six rebound performance to help the Longhorns (6-2) take down the Mavericks 80-62 Tuesday night. Four other Longhorns ended up with double-digit points to add to the barrage.
“[McClellan] is tremendously talented. He still doesn’t understand how good he can be. But believe me, a game like Sheldon had tonight, Julien [Lewis] could go off and do the same thing,” Texas head coach Rick Barnes said. “We’ve got guys that can score the ball.”
McClellan, along with fellow freshmen Jonathan Holmes (7 points), Julien Lewis (13 points), and Myck Kabongo (13 points), were instrumental in helping put the game out of reach. With the Mavericks breathing down their backs for much of the first half, the Longhorns, led mostly by the aforementioned freshman, put together a 10-5 run to end the half.
From then on out, the Texas offense played just well enough to counter anytime the Mavericks flirted with a single-digit lead. With 13:46 to go and an eight point lead, Lewis snaked his way to the paint for an easy jumper to give Texas the 10 point edge. Again with 9:44 to go and a nine point advantage, Kabongo fronted a defender, juked right and drove left to the basket for the layup.
UT-Arlington coach Scott Cross said Kabongo’s pacing is what really made the difference.
“[Kabongo] just did an unbelievable job getting in the paint. He creates for all those guys, and of course they can shoot it extremely well,” Cross said of the freshman point guard. “The number of points they got in the paint was tremendous (32) and I think it all starts with him.”
Alexis Wangmene provided the key defensive stops in the second half that really helped Texas put the Mavericks in their place. With just under four minutes to go, Wangmene extended for a block that looked like he ripped the ball right out of the air. It was officially recorded as a steal and he was rewarded on the other end with a power dunk in the paint off a J’Covan Brown assist. He ended with 10 points, seven rebounds, two steals and a block.
The Mavericks (4-3) were never able to get in an offensive rhythm. Their leading scorer, forward Kevin Butler, only had 12 points on a three-for-10 shooting night.
“I didn’t feel like we played with the same juice and energy that we have been in the last few games, but with a lot of that, you have to give Texas credit,” Cross said. “That’s the one thing they do is play great defense.”
The Longhorns were also able to out rebound the Mavericks, 39-36, but Rick Barnes said he hopes his team can continue to get better in this facet of the game before it takes on Texas State Saturday.
“Overall there were some good things tonight,” Barnes said.
“But we’ve got a long way to go.”