Prince Ibeh stepped to the free-throw line at the 18:49 mark of the first half. The senior center was fouled while making a layup and needed a free-throw to convert the and-one.
Ibeh, who entered the game 3-of-21 on free throws, missed the shot, but a lane violation offered him another chance. The ball left his hand, kissed the glass and found its way into the basket, drawing applause from a pleasantly surprised crowd.
He wasn’t done. Ibeh finished with a career-high 17 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks while causing the crowd to go wild with every free throw he sunk. He exited to a standing ovation as the Longhorns took down Texas Christian University 71-54 at the Frank Erwin Center Tuesday night.
“Most of it has been just getting comfortable,” Ibeh said. “Early on, I didn’t play many minutes, when I want out there I was timid, I didn’t want to mess up.”
Ibeh was thrust into the starting role after senior center Cameron Ridley’s foot injury. Tuesday marked the best game of his career.
“[I’m] just proud of him,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “Sometimes there’s an opportunity that comes somebody’s way and they make the most of it and you’re just happy when guys do that.”
The Longhorns came out strong from the beginning, thanks to Ibeh — he scored the first five Longhorn points as Texas shot 46.4 percent from the field in the first half while building a 37-27 halftime lead. The double-digit lead was built with Texas going 0-of-6 from 3 in the first half.
“[Ibeh’s] a guy that he’s been putting a lot of work in,” Smart said. “His teammates believe in him. His teammates know what he is to our team, and we’re just happy for him.”
Like its last few games, however, Texas struggled out of the gate in the second half — the Horned Frogs cut the Longhorns’ lead to six early in the second half. But senior guard Javan Felix hit the Longhorns’ first two three-pointers of the game in the second half to put Texas back up 10 points ahead.
Ibeh got his chance to shine again in the second half, sinking four more free throws which drew a loud ovation from the crowd each time — Ibeh finished 5-of-6 from the free-throw line.
“For a while now I’ve been shooting free throws well in practice,” Ibeh said. “And when game time comes, I think I’ve just been kind of thinking about the past failures and that’s kind of been blocking my way in doing what I do in practice.”
The game also avenges Texas’ 58-57 loss to TCU in Fort Worth on Jan. 9. Since then, the Longhorns have gone 4-1.
“We still need to improve,” Smart said. “But that was a game that it was disappointing feeling coming home, and we knew that there was a lot of things that we needed to address.”