Texas head coach Rick Barnes doesn’t put much stock in who starts games but rather who finishes them. Jordan Hamilton was sitting on the bench when the final whistle blew Wednesday night but hardly left the floor in the Longhorns’ 89-58 win over Louisiana Tech.
The sophomore forward played 30 minutes, nearly 11 more than he averaged last season, and notched a game-high 19 points plus four rebounds against the Bulldogs.
“I want him to get in even better shape,” Barnes said. “That’s why I played him, hoping he could fight through some fatigue.”
Hamilton made the second start of his collegiate career last night and kept the Texas offense in motion by either cutting to the basket or pulling up to shoot. The energetic swingman showed his grit with two field goals in the paint but also nailed a long 3-pointer and some mid-range jumpers.
“He’s doing a lot more good things away from the ball defensively,” Barnes said. “As long as he’ll continue to try to do that he’ll continue to get better.”
Tristan Thompson added 17 points and senior Gary Johnson scored 15. But the scoring came from less likely sources as well, including eight points apiece from Jai Lucas, Cory Joseph and Dogus Balbay. The Texas bench out-scored its Louisiana Tech counterpart 37-18.
Brandon Gibson led Louisiana Tech with 16 points and forward Olu Ashaolu added 13, but they were the only Bulldogs to reach double digits. The visiting team as a whole shot 32.8 percent from the field.
“I think we got baptism by fire,” said Louisiana Tech head coach Kerry Rupp. “They are the type of team we want to be.”
Barnes is now just two wins short of 500 career victories, a plateau currently shared by only 11 active NCAA coaches.
The Longhorns got off to a slow start Wednesday and had a tough time penetrating the Bulldogs’ lanes. They converted just two field goals in the paint for the first nine minutes. Still, they managed to shake off the Bulldogs and establish an early 15-point lead.
A short run cut the advantage to 31-22 with 4:16 remaining in the half but Louisiana Tech didn’t get closer than 11 the rest of the night.
“Tonight was the best job we’ve done ... coming out at the start of the game [and] executing,” Barnes said. “Tonight we did a better job early.”
Texas started the second half with an 11-0 run, capped off by a coast-to-coast drive by Balbay garnished with a pass-fake layup. Afterward, the guard sprinted back down the court and blocked Louisiana Tech’s shot, a good sign for a player that tore the ACL in his left knee nine months ago.
“I play hard on both ends,” Balbay said. “I made the layup and I knew I had to get back and play defense.”
The senior’s leg presently sports a large brace from shin to mid-thigh.
“I feel pretty good and I think it’s going to get better as the season goes on,” he added.
Wednesday’s win marked the first time since 2006-07 that Texas opened the season by scoring 80 points in consecutive games. The Longhorns face No. 13 Illinois on Nov. 18 in the next round of the 2K Sports Classic.