Longhorns thrash Demons to open season

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Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Friday night was supposed to usher in a new era of Texas basketball, and based on the Longhorns’ performance, it lived up to expectations. Loaded with a combination of young talent and returning veterans, Shaka Smart’s team delivered plenty of hope for the upcoming season to the 9,516 fans that watched the lopsided spectacle.

Texas rolled Northwestern State throughout, ending the contest at the Frank Erwin Center 105-59. And on an even more encouraging note, plenty of Texas’ struggles from last season became strengths in the 2017-18 opener.

“We still have a long way to go, a lot of things to improve on, but I think our guys shared the ball really well,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “I thought Mo (Bamba) and Dylan (Osetkowski) as a twosome just gave us a great spark early with the way that they played, the way that they rebounded.”

The night started with an emphatic putback dunk by five-star freshman center Mohamed Bamba. Bamba, a 6-foot-11 center with an NBA future, anchored the paint defensively and scored at will near the basket on offense. Bamba stuffed the stat sheet with a game-high 15 points, eight boards and four rejections.

“Whenever you can start off with a dunk on your first play, it pumps everyone up,” Bamba said. “Our message was we had something to prove. Last year wasn’t the greatest year for us and I’m saying ‘us’ because I was a part of that too.”

Bamba’s partner-in-crime, power forward Dylan Osetkowski, impressed in his Texas debut as well. The versatile big man displayed his arsenal of skills, nailing outside shots, boxing out to earn tough rebounds and even demonstrating an ability to handle the ball up the floor. The junior finished with a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double. He’ll be counted on throughout the season, bringing Texas’ rebounding and high-post success that it lacked a year ago.

“I’m just trying to bring a level of hustle, spirit, rebounding,” Osetkowski said. “My ability to shoot the ball is only to get better from here. And I’m gonna help space the floor out.”

The Longhorns shot 29.2 and 65 percent from three-point range and the charity stripe in 2016-17, respectively. Both of these facets of the game were noticeably improved in the early going on Friday night. Texas drew plenty of contact down low, resulting in numerous trips to the line. The team finished the first half 17-of-19 from the line and 5-of-14 from downtown.

But most importantly, Texas drilled each of its first four three-pointers and finished several dunks to establish early momentum and ignite the offensive attack. Seven Texas players scored in double-figures as the Longhorns finished over the century mark for the first time since December 2015.

Despite the offensive flashes, the Longhorns’ defense was arguably the strongest aspect of Texas’ game. Northwestern State couldn’t break through the Longhorns’ press in the first half and Texas’ aggressive defense, led by Kerwin Roach, forced 19 turnovers in the contest. Additionally, the Longhorns blanked the Demons 28-0 in points off of turnovers.

“With the new group we got in, we were able to pressure more, rotate guys in and we’re long and fast and athletic, so the more we can pressure people, we can get in our element playing fast,” sophomore point guard Andrew Jones said.

After completing the second largest blowout of the Smart era, Texas will look to continue the success on Tuesday night when New Hampshire comes to town.