Wednesday marked the 40th anniversary of the Frank Erwin Center’s opening. And just like the Nov. 29 matchup 40 years ago against the Oklahoma Sooners, Texas left its home arena victorious.
The Longhorns (5-2) defeated Florida A&M, 82-58, after losing two straight at the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Oregon. Texas got to test its talents against modern powerhouses in Duke and Gonzaga, falling short in overtime in both contests. But managing to compete with high-caliber programs translated to an easy victory over a 1-8 program on Wednesday night — even if the Longhorns didn’t play up to their standard.
“I just didn’t think we showed the level of competitive maturity that we need to have,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “It’s something that teams with a lot of young guys deal with, but we’re going to need to understand that to win the games that matter most, we have to do all the little things and all the things we focus on in our cultural principles.”
Despite their 24-point victory, the Longhorns struggled at many aspects of the game, especially in the first half. The team sunk just 1-of-13 threes and connected on 8-of-17 free throws in the opening 20 minutes. But what Texas lacked in shooting, it made up for in defense.
Texas only yielded three free throw attempts to Florida A&M in the first half, limiting the Rattlers to 10-of-29 shooting from the field. The visitors struggled to shatter Texas’ full-court press — a defensive strategy Smart utilized during his last outing against Gonzaga. Over the course of the evening, Florida A&M committed 17 turnovers.
“I think anything in the press — a 10-second violation, a steal, a turnover — (is rewarding),” junior forward Dylan Osetkowski said. “When we go to that, we have a big advantage with our length, our size, our athleticism. We don’t go to it often, but when we do, we can be really effective at it.”
Texas’ offense gained momentum in the second half. Sophomore guard Andrew Jones jump started the scoring barrage with a dunk off of a fastbreak eurostep, and Osetkowski finished the ensuing possession with a reverse baseline slam. Although the three-point shooting never found its rhythm, Texas dominated in the paint, outscoring the Rattlers 56-24 in the burnt orange portion of the hardwood.
“We just wanted to take the good looks,” Jones said on the second-half offensive explosion. “We were dominating on the inside of the paint. We weren’t going to force up any jumpers that weren’t clean, in-rhythm looks. You go where the mismatch is. Dylan was unstoppable tonight so we just kept feeding him.”
Jones, who only played nine minutes in the first half, broke out of his shell and bolstered Texas in a 47-point second half. The sophomore finished with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting in 19 minutes, displaying impressive efficiency on the offensive end. Osetkowski served as the other star of the night, chipping in a team-high 19 points and snatching eight rebounds.
“Dylan did a lot of great things, but he also was a space cadet at times,” Smart said. “I’m hard on him. He’s further along in terms of his maturity and development. You can tell him the truth. But I thought he did a lot of good things. He was aggressive, he was 8-of-11 and he rebounded the ball well.”
Smart’s team snapped a two-game skid, but the opponents will crank up a notch soon. The coach will return to his old stomping grounds for a road battle with the Virginia Commonwealth Rams next Tuesday night in Richmond.