Smart picks up first win as Texas head coach

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Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

A week ago, senior guard Javan Felix had two open looks from beyond the arc with time running down to take the lead against Washington. Both shots, however, clanked off the rim, earning the Longhorns a 77-71 loss in the season opener.

But his first two shots of Texas’ home opener on Saturday ended differently.

Felix drilled a 3-pointer to give Texas a lead over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi after trailing 10-8 in the early minutes. Minutes later, Felix again drained a shot from deep, giving the Longhorns a 14-10 lead and sparking the offense to a 67-56 win Saturday night — Shaka Smart’s first victory as head coach.

“We’re going to shoot the ball when we’re open,” Felix said.

Felix finished the night with 12 points on 4-of-4 on 3-pointers and received the game ball from Smart after the game. He immediately gave the ball back to Smart before the rest of the team mobbed the coach.

“It’s something he’s definitely going to remember, the team’s going to remember and the University is going to remember for a while,” senior forward Connor Lammert said.

Texas opened the game in similar fashion last week against the Huskies, scoring the game’s first points and then watching the opponent take the lead. By the three-minute mark, the Islanders held an 8-4 advantage.

But Felix’s two 3-pointers, part of a 17-5 run, flipped the switch for the Longhorns. Texas finished the half shooting 46.7 percent from the field and 4-of-10 from beyond the arc for a 37-28 lead.

The second half, however, was a regression from the start of the game. The Islanders cut the Longhorns’ lead to five behind a couple of turnovers that turned into easy layups.

But, just as Felix did in the first half, Lammert helped Texas regain control of the game. Lammert tallied nine straight points, including two 3-pointers, to push the Longhorn’s lead to 52-43.

“I’m just there to hit the open shot and attack the close out if I need to,” Lammert said.

Fellow senior center Cameron Ridley helped close out the victory with two rebounds, a block and a follow-up dunk to wrap up the game.

Ridley finished with a double-double — 14 points and 14 rebounds — and said they were looking to get him, senior center Prince Ibeh and junior forward Shaquille Cleare more involved after they scored just 10 points against Washington.

“I appreciate all of guards looking for us,” Ridley said.

The Longhorns will travel this week to Paradise Island, Bahamas, to compete in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. Texas will square off against former Big 12 rival Texas A&M to open the tournament at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Smart said the Longhorns still have room to improve going into the tournament, especially with 18 turnovers against the Islanders.

“Our guys are playing with a new operating system,” Smart said. “Obviously we go up in weight class in terms of competition next week. I think our guys understand that we’re going to have to continue to get better and better if we want to win those games.”