Horns narrowly avoid upset in season opener

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Freshman point guard Javan Felix (3) drives past a Fresno State defender in the first half of the Longhorns' 55-53 win over the Bulldogs.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

It wasn't easy. It wasn't pretty. But Texas is 1-0.

Sheldon McClellan scored 18 of his game-high 20 points in the second half as the Longhorns squeaked past Fresno State, 55-53, in their season opener at the Frank Erwin Center on Friday night. The Longhorns shot just 36.7 percent from the field and recorded only three assists but were able to avoid losing their first season opener since 2001.

Any sluggishness they displayed could be attributed to the fact that they haven't had a day off in nearly a week.

"We're a tired team right now and it's my fault," head coach Rick Barnes said. "We've had to remake ourselves a little bit with Myck [Kabongo]'s situation and Jaylen going down... This is our sixth straight day. In the last eight or nine years, we've never practiced more than three days in a row."

Playing without Kabongo, the team's star point guard, and sophomore forward Jaylen Bond, Texas was left with only three available scholarship players that had played college basketball before. One of them, sophomore forward Jonathan Holmes, grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds. Another, McCllelan, was 14-for-14 from the free throw line, the most attempts from the charity stripe without a miss in school history.

"My outside shot wasn't falling and Coach [Barnes] called some plays for me to get around the rim," McClellan said. "I just kept being in attack mode and kepy my confidence up by getting to the free throw line."

Kabongo was held out of the game as the NCAA continues to investigate whether he received impermissible benefits from an agent during the offseason and Bond missed the opener with an ankle injury he suffered during practice earlier in the week.

Without them, Texas never led Fresno State by more than five points. Freshmen accounted for 19 of the 25 points scored by the Longhorns in the first half. Jevan Felix, starting in place of Kabongo, led the way in the first 20 minutes with eight points and seven rebounds before halftime.

But he slowed down in the second half, shooting just 1-for-7 from the floor and committing three turnovers.

"I think we got tentative," Barnes said. "We weren't attacking the defense. We were just dribbling with no purpose. Jevan got tired. Because of that, we didn't get our offense going the way we wanted to get it going."

The game was tied 11 times, the last being when the Longhorns and Bulldogs -- coached by former Texas assistant Rodney Terry -- were knotted up at 48 with 2:14 remaining in the second half. McClellan hit a pair of free throws on the Longhorns' next two possessions to give them a 52-48 lead.

After Fresno State hit two free throws to cut Texas' advantage to two points, Felix badly missed a floater close to the basket, a shot he hit several times in the first half. The Bulldogs' Kevin Olekaibe, with his team trailing, 52-50, airballed a three-pointer before McClellan hit two more free throws to put the game away.

"We're not going to blow anyone out," McClellan said. "They came out here and played hard. We just stayed together as a team and grinded it out at the end."