Sluggish starts aren’t the new flavor at the Frank Erwin Center, but strong finishes aren’t either.
During each home game of this young season, the team has battled neck-and-neck with the visitor in first halves before abruptly pulling away with double-digit victories. Episode III of the recurring result aired Friday night, resulting in a 97-69 Texas triumph over The Citadel.
“With our defense and perseverance, we always stick together,” shooting guard Kerwin Roach II said after the win. “When we’re the better team, it’s going to show at the end of the game.”
Trailing 16-12, the size-advantaged Longhorns began corralling offensive rebounds and cashing checks in the form of high-percentage buckets.
In the first nine minutes, Texas grabbed eight offensive boards and scored 14 points in the paint, despite missing all eight 3-point tries. Once the Longhorns adapted to their strengths, the other facets of the game adapted to them.
“I thought they won the game in the first half with the way they defended and the way they focused on our plan,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “I thought our guys stayed neutral in their thinking, didn’t get down, didn’t lose focus of the details and process that we want to follow.”
Elijah Mitrou-Long ended the schneid by sinking the team’s first three, and one possession later, Matt Coleman III swished a triple from the opposite wing. The pace picked up, and The Citadel struggled to defend in transition while consistently resorting to turnovers offensively.
When the Bulldogs scored their next points, the deed was already done as Texas secured a 28-16 lead in the form of a 16-0 run.
“That’s a great term to use for (Mitrou-Long) — catalyst. Because that’s what we need him to be for our team.” Smart said. “Eli’s a guy who’s very, very emotional and when he can channel that in the right way, it’s huge for our team.”
Besides bullying the Bulldogs down low, Texas exerted plenty of damage by simply holding onto the basketball. It wasn’t until over 13 minutes passed when the Longhorns committed their first turnover.
At the same point, The Citadel produced eight giveaways, decidedly losing the turnover battle, 20-7.
Outside of the consecutive threes to spark Texas’ defining run, three-point shooting remained abysmal before the break. Smart’s team entered halftime connecting on just two of 20 threes. But shooting guard Jase Febres ensured the team would escape the valley, acing a pair of threes in the opening minutes of the second half.
“Coming off the bench, I could see who’s hot or not,” Mitrou-Long said. “The first shot Jase took was a three and he hit it. So, I knew when I came in the game I was going to find him. And I remember seeing Courtney (Ramey) on the wing on the right side, and I knew I was going to engage my guy and try to get him open because he was gonna flame it in.”
The shots started falling and Texas transformed into a lethal offensive machine, sinking 10 of 22 three point attempts in the second half to lead by as many as 31.
A notable milestone was achieved on one of these threes when Roach became the 37th Longhorn to register 1,000 career points on a triple in the final minutes.
“Being here at (Texas) and just getting 1,000 points and getting my name in the record book is amazing,” said Roach, who scored a team-high 15. “I was getting frustrated when the shots weren’t falling, but I stayed with the process and kept shooting the open shots I always practice.”
Propelled by a balanced scoring effort which featured five Longhorns in double-figures, Texas leaps to a 4–0 start for the second-straight year. Texas, undefeated away from home this season, awaits its greatest challenge of the year on Thanksgiving Day, with a battle in Las Vegas against No. 7 North Carolina.