November 15, 2008

No.7 Horns roll to 68-38 win in opener

It was a case of good news and bad news for the No.7 Texas Longhorns on Friday night in their season-opener against Stetson.

Let's start with the good.

Led by a pair of seniors, the Longhorns rolled to a dominating 68-38 win over the Hatters. Starting guard A.J. Abrams had a game-high 21 points (including five three-point shots), while forward Connor Atchley added 14 points, as the Longhorns overcame a sluggish offensive start to win going away.

With the offense struggling to find its way without last year's starting point guard D.J. Augustin in charge, the Longhorns relied on tremendous team defense in building a 29-18 halftime lead.

The Longhorns limited the Hatters to five of 23 shooting from the field in the first half, including one of ten from three-point range, while also forcing 10 turnovers and winning the battle of the boards in commanding fashion.

Yet when the final seconds ticked off the clock before halftime, Texas needed a three-point shot by Abrams with four seconds remaining to give Texas a double-digit lead.

All of that leads us to the bad news.

Despite the dominant defensive numbers, the Longhorns struggled to find any rhythm on offense for the first 20 minutes of the game, as the ball movement and overall flow of the offense never really got on track.

Some of that changed in the second half, as the Longhorns used a bucket from junior Damion James and a three-point shot from Abrams to boost the lead to 16 points and after that quick sequence the game was never in doubt again.

James finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, while Dexter Pittman added 10 points to round out the Longhorns players that finished in double figures. Hatters guard A.J. Smith led the Hatters with 12 points.

Inside the Numbers

The Longhorns finished the night 27 of 50 from the field (54.0%), eight of 15 (53.3%) from three-point land and were an ugly six of 16 (37.5%) from the free throw line. The Longhorns outrebounded the Hatters 37-28 and beat them in bench scoring (16-9), second-chance points (10-8), points off turnovers (16-8), transition points (3-0), blocks (8-1) and steals (6-3). Neither team protected the ball especially well, as the Longhorns forced 19 turnovers, but turned it over 15 times.

Star of the game

I'm tempted to pick Atchley because he had by far and away the most efficient night. After he was forced to retire the locker room for a brief time because of a cut on his chin, he returned and finished a perfect five for five from the field, including three of three from downtown, in 24 minutes. In addition to that, he also played outstanding defense and didn't an inch on the court. He really has become a mature leader by example on the court for this team.

After all of that, it was Abrams that really ignited this team with his outside shooting, which is why he is my choice tonight. The two biggest plays of the night were his three-point shot with four seconds left in the first half that boosted the lead to 11 and his three-point shot early in the second half, which pumped the lead to 16 points. Abrams came out firing a little too much early in the game (three in the first three minutes), but there's no question that he's instant offense for this team, which is vital when you consider how hard this team had to work for points for much of the game. He really has to become a better distributor because one assist in 35 minutes is criminal, but he didn't commit a single turnover on the night. Atchley played the better overall game, but Abrams was the straw that stirred the team's drink when they needed separation.

Unsung hero

This was an easy one. Sophomore Gary Johnson did not get the start tonight, but he got after it in his 17 minutes of action, finishing with six points and seven rebounds. The thing you have to love about Johnson is that he doesn't give an inch to anyone, ever - not on rebounds, not on loose balls, not on shots and not in fighting for an inch of space on the floor. This kid will have some big nights this season because his effort will take him there.

Most curious line-up decision

Most expected that Johnson would get the start at one of the forward spots tonight, but sophomore Clint Chapman actually got the start in place of him. If the idea was to have Johnson provide a spark off the bench, it worked. As effective as Johnson was, Chapman was as ineffective, as he finished with zero points (zero for three from the field), two rebounds and two fouls in 13 minutes. Although Chapman struggled from the field, he did play well on the defensive end, blocking two shots and recording a steal.

Most concerning part of a 30-point win

This team desperately misses Augustin and the lack of quality point guard play tonight suffocated this team on offense because there was very little dribble-penetration and ball movement, and a whole lot of disjointed play. After leading the nation last year in fewest turnovers per game, the Longhorns committed 15 on this night. Even worse, the Longhorns finished with more assists than turnovers in 32 of their 38 games last year, but they were on the other side of the coin tonight (15 to 9).

Getting only four assists in 70 minutes of play from the backcourt tandem of Abrams and Justin Mason shows just how little creating for the rest of the team was being generated. The trickle down effect is that the UT transition game was non-existent all night and that will be something that everyone will be watching as we move forward.

Best Rick Barnes quote heard from the stands

"You do that one more time and you're not playing the rest of the night," Barnes told Alexis Wangmene after he traveled after receiving an entry pass at the free throw line.

Best sign that the other team has run out of gas

After Dexter Pittman went on a one-man destruction unit late in the second half, as he legally bowled over Hatters forward Graeme Radford, then did it again illegally and then he followed that up by tossing him aside and throwing down a dunk (but only after he missed the first dunk attempt). When it was all said and done, Radford walked off the court looking like Michael Spinks after the third knockdown in his fight against Mike Tyson. He actually staggered to the bench in his final steps off the court and seemed a little shaken.

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