The Longhorns nearly fell victim to a Thanksgiving hangover as they narrowly defeated Rice 62-59 on Saturday.
A 3-point barrage in the second half led by Cory Joseph and Jordan Hamilton helped Texas avoid an upset courtesy of the Owls.
Joseph, who had a game-high and career-high 14 points, converted on four of six shots from behind the arc.
“We just got on a hot roll and we kept on going with it,” Joseph said.
The Longhorns were nine for 14 for three in the second half, including a two-minute stretch where Hamilton drained three “treys” turning a four-point deficit into a four-point lead.
The long range attempts came after Rice’s zone defense prevented Texas from attacking the basket. The Longhorns made more 3-pointers (11) than two-point baskets (nine).
“It was clear that they were going to let us shoot all of the 3s that we wanted to shoot,” said head coach Rick Barnes. “Early in the game, they weren’t even guarding Jordan on the perimeter.”
Texas was unable to run with the ball as much as it wanted with the Owls choosing to take their time on offense and let the shot clock run low on most possessions.
In running out the clock, Rice went into halftime leading 23-20 after a dull opening 20 minutes.
“We probably tried to overthink, and once the ball went inside, which we got it, it comes out,” Barnes said. “Guys had shots that they should have taken and they didn’t. I thought they got a little tentative there.”
While the Longhorns struggled in the paint, Rice attacked the basket, finding its cutting guards, who were the recipients of several backdoor passes for easy layups.
“I thought that, of all the teams that we have played this year, that Rice did the best job executing on their offensive end,” Barnes said.
The Owls went basket for basket with the Longhorns, who were unable to pull away in the second half. Rice’s dribble penetration forced the rotate, and UT was unable to recover quickly enough.
“When that happens, the guard has to get inside but they kicked out a few times,” Barnes said. “The 3s they got were because they executed and we didn’t.”
The Longhorns’ size and athleticism ended up being too much for the Owls. Tristan Thompson earned the first double-double of his college career, scoring 10 points and adding 10 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end.
“I think, defensively, we had Texas guarded but we didn’t finish the play with the rebound,” said Rice head coach Ben Braun.
Guard Jai Lucas played a season-high 30 minutes and made his first two 3-pointers of the season as a part of his eight points.
“They hit some shots when they had to,” Braun said. “If they don’t make those shots, I think maybe we win the basketball game.”
Rice had one final attempt to send the game into overtime, but Rice’s Tamir Jackson’s three-point attempt was off the mark, and the Owls were unable to get another chance as the clock expired.
“This game was good for us,” Barnes said. “We needed a game like this, because it still got down to where we are going to have to make some stops.”