Tremendous, athletic dunks by freshman forward Mo Bamba, the return of junior guard Kerwin Roach II and shocking the No. 8 team in the nation — there were plenty of reasons the crowd at the Frank Erwin Center was on its feet Wednesday night.
The Longhorns not only competed but played an exciting brand of basketball to boost the atmosphere at The Drum in a 67-58 upset victory over eighth-ranked Texas Tech.
“The fans were great tonight, particularly the students,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “They made a huge, huge difference for our team. I really appreciated the way people in Austin, people in the UT community have rallied around our team in a difficult time.”
Daily Texan Sports postgame show live from the Erwin Center. https://t.co/Z0a2fkWWPl— Daily Texan Sports (@texansports) January 18, 2018
Bamba’s energy gave the Texas faithful a reason to get excited, producing highlight dunk after highlight dunk and rejection after rejection. The freshman finished with a loaded stat line of 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.
“I think he can block the moon and the sun,” Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard said. “He’s a lottery pick for a reason.”
But the most important dunk of the game belonged to Roach, whose right-handed flush down a wide-open lane mounted Texas’ lead to 64-52 with 2:06 remaining in the game. The 12,396 onlookers responded by achieving a maximum decibel level for the night.
It was a spectacular outing for the junior guard, who returned after a fractured left hand marked him absent for the last two contests. Roach shoveled in a season-high 20 points, and the 59.1-percent free throw shooter showed massive improvement by sinking 8-of-9 shots from the stripe on the night.
Additionally, he thrived in his primary role as a defensive nuisance, holding Texas Tech senior guard Keenan Evans — who averaged 17.5 points per game entering Wednesday — to just 11 points.
“It was big for us,” Bamba said of Roach’s return. “Snoop (Roach’s nickname) really takes charge in our perimeter defense, and having him back in the lineup made all the difference. Keenan Evans is a really good player offensively, and Snoop really did his job on him tonight.”
Texas moved slightly away from the three-ball and played to its strengths. Smart’s team only attempted 15 shots beyond the arc. The Longhorns finished with 32 points in the paint instead. A high-percentage shot selection led the team to finish 51.1 percent from the floor as the Longhorns obtained their first top-10 win since February 2016.
Despite the ranking disparity and the absence of sophomore guard Andrew Jones — who is battling leukemia — Texas was in control for the majority of the 40 minutes.
The Longhorns snatched an early 12-11 lead with 10:42 left in the first half and remained ahead until the final buzzer sounded. The Red Raiders provided a brief scare by cutting the margin to five with just under five minutes to go.
But thanks to a barrage of late layups and dunks, Texas (12–6, 3–3 Big 12) prevailed in an urgent game, avoiding a losing streak while managing to stay competitive against the elite in a challenging Big 12.
“The thing about this league is teams being ranked and where they’re ranked will fluctuate some because people are going through a gauntlet of tough games,” Smart said. “There’s five or six teams in our league that could make an argument to be in the top 10, 15 or 20.
“We’re not one of them yet; we’re trying to become one of them. Tonight was a good step in that direction.”