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November 8, 2013

Longhorns open season with 76-73 win

In their first contest of the season, the Longhorns (1-0) were tested physically, mentally, and emotionally by a veteran Mercer (0-1) team that returned a lot of players from an Atlantic Sun regular season championship team last year. And they responded.

It wasn't the prettiest win - Texas struggled for lengthy stretches on both offense and defense - but the Longhorns fought back from a deficit to beat Mercer 76-73.

Both teams felt the impact of the three-point shot, and it was the story of the game through roughly the first 30 minutes of game action. Texas shot 6-of-8 from beyond the arc in the first half, and Mercer started 1-of-11 from deep, which led to it trailing by 12 with just 3:53 left in the first half. But behind a couple of three-balls, including a four-point play, Mercer rallied to trail just 39-36 at the half.

In the second half, Mercer took advantage of Texas' zone defense, and shot 7-of-14 from deep with most of those coming early. However, the game changed when Mercer took a 62-53 lead with 9:44 left. Rick Barnes called a timeout, and switched the defense to man-to-man. That's when Demarcus Holland (seven points, eight rebounds, and two steals) led a suffocating defensive effort, which fueled a win.

"The difference was Demarcus Holland," said Barnes after the game about the turning point when Texas switched from zone to man-to-man defense. "He did a terrific job."

Despite being a young team, and a team that's practiced the last three weeks mostly without Jon Holmes and Javan Felix, the Longhorns didn't panic down nine points. They played with intensity and impressive effort on both ends of the floor throughout the night, even when things got away from them and the execution lacked.

"There was no panic," said Felix, who scored 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting from the floor with nine assists. "We know that there are going to be runs teams will make against us. Coach Barnes talks to us about being on edge all the time, just playing hard and doing what we can control. We knew they were going to make a run. We talked about it; that are smart, experienced team. We had to fight through, show our toughness and keep going."

After that timeout, Texas went on a 10-0 run to take a 63-62 lead. Texas' defense continued to frustrate Mercer, and it opened up a 71-64 behind two putbacks by Connor Lammert (nine points on 4-of-6 shooting and eight rebounds). Mercer cut it to a 74-73 game with 10 seconds left, but Texas broke the press on the inbounds, which resulted in an emphatic two-hand dunk by Holland to ice it.

Sophomore Cameron Ridley spent the offseason working hard to change his body, and the hard work paid off in the first game of the season. The 6-9 big man finished with eight points (3-of-7 from the floor) with 11 rebounds and five blocks with just one turnover. In the second half, Ridley had six points, nine rebounds, and three blocks. He was an active force on both ends of the floor, and played 27 minutes.

"I think he was the game-changer tonight," said Barnes. "He went and got it. What he did, you could almost feel the bench come alive because he started doing things without the ball. I thought it was great. He can do that. With Cam, you obviously [can] tell he's gotten better [around] the free throw line and I don't think people realize how tough it is to score there when you have five guys around you and they really pack in there. Cam has worked hard and he is only scratching the surface. He single-handedly changed the game at the end with his presence."

In the first half, Texas had just one offensive rebound. However, it grabbed 12 in the second half, and the trio of Ridley, Lammert, and Holland combined for nine offensive rebounds.

College basketball fans are going to quickly realize that the game is going to me officiated much differently this year. The block-charge call really favors the offensive player now, and the hand-check rule now leads to a foul being called nearly every time the ball-handler is touched.

Once Taylor got a feel for this on the offensive end, the quick, decisive point guard started to attack, which led to a team-high 17 points in his debut. He racked up those points on 4-of-10 shooting from the floor and a 9-of-14 effort from the free throw line. And when the dust settled, the freshman had half of all the Longhorns' free throw attempts.

"Yeah, it seems like they're calling a game a little more touchy this year," said Taylor after the win. "I just want to drive as much as I can and draw as many fouls [as I can]. The guard had two fouls within the first couple minutes of the game and I did my job. Coach Barnes wants us to play an up-tempo game. "He wants us to score within seven seconds of the shot clock. My job is to get into the crack of the defense, and those lanes were opening up tonight."

Texas returns to action Tuesday night at 7:00 PM (Longhorn Network) at home against South Alabama.

To read our 10 immediate thoughts and analysis for Texas' win over Mercer, click here .

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