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December 18, 2013
Longhorns leave North Carolina with signature win
Do the Longhorns belong? Well, tonight showed they can go anywhere and play with anyone in the country. Oh, and they can also win.
Texas (10-1) went on the road to play No. 14 North Carolina (7-3) and came away with a huge, signature, 86-83 victory over a quality Tar Heel team that's already defeated Michigan State, Louisville, and Kentucky. Some thoughts:
1) A couple of ways to sum up this Texas basketball team happened at the end of the game. First, Jon Holmes played through all sorts of leg/knee pain all night long, and yet there he was at the end playing strong defense and making plays. The junior scored 15 points (on 4-of-7 shooting) and added 10 rebounds with three blocks. There were times he had to be helped off the floor and Texas couldn't keep him off of it a couple minutes later.
Second, North Carolina was the beneficiary of a phantom flagrant foul late in the game to make it 84-83 Texas with under 15 seconds left. Demarcus Holland got fouled, missed both free throws, but grabbed the offensive rebound and put it in with under seven seconds left to give Texas the 86-83.
Effort, toughness, and fighting through adversity things this Texas team has done this year.
Also, Holmes was a better player than both Brice Johnson and James Michael McAdoo tonight.
2) Texas won the battle on the glass (51-42 overall; 20-15 on the offensive end), shot better at the free-throw line (20-of-33 compared to 24-of-47), dominated points in the paint (40 to 16), had more points off turnovers (15 to 4), and played in transition better than UNC did.
3) I've said this before, but Javan Felix told me that he wants the ball late in the games in tight situations. He drilled the game-winner at Temple after a miserable performance all game, and tonight he stepped up to drill two three-pointers, and another jumper to account for eight of Texas' final 14 points when it desperately needed them.
4) The confidence the Texas players should tonight was outstanding. Damarcus Croaker earned lots of early minutes because of the way he was playing on both ends. Kendal Yancy was in the game on the final possession after proving he could handle things defensively. Holmes and Holland came out on fire with 14 of Texas' first 16 points.
Holland, Holmes, and Isaiah Taylor all sounded very confident this week during the media session, and it was no act. The Longhorns took the floor confident they weren't just going to hang with a good team. They took the floor thinking they were going to win.
5) Texas played about as well as it could play in the first half, scoring a season-high 52 points in the first half and taking an 11-point lead into the locker room. However, when UNC went zone for lengthy stretches in the second half the Longhorns again struggled to remain aggressive and confident. This has happened before, and it's something Texas must improve on.
6) Barnes mentioned this week that against a team like UNC that loves to run like Texas, you have to come right back at them and attack them aggressively on offense in order to put pressure on them. That's what Texas did for most of the night, especially Holland (15 points on 6-of-13 shooting) and Taylor (16 points on 5-of-16 shooting).
Texas can deal with the down percentages if it comes because guys are aggressively going at the rim every chance, which is what Texas was doing.
7) Cameron Ridley didn't make much of an impact in 16 minutes, but he did knock down an enormous, turnaround jumper down the stretch. Connor Lammert quietly grabbed 10 rebounds in 15 minutes.
8) For the most part, I felt like Texas was solid defensively. There were stretches in the second half when they had to go small and got tired. But overall, it forced North Carolina into a lot of contested jumpers.
A lot of the shots Marcus Paige, who is as good as a scoring guard as probably anyone in the country, made were tough shots that Texas defended about as well as it could. Barnes did a nice job of mixing man-to-man and zone defenses in order to keep the North Carolina offense out of rhythm.
9) The encouraging thing about this result for the Longhorns might be that it can get better. I felt like they played an A- first half, and a B-, maybe even C+ second half partially because of foul trouble.
10) Did you see Barnes cracking smiles in the second half in a tight game? Did you see the Texas bench live and die with every shot, which included losing its mind on the Holland putback?
People that say things like chemistry and teamwork don't matter need to watch this Texas team. Barnes loves this team because it reminds him of some of his first ones at Texas, and he can't hide it. He couldn't hide smiles all night while his team was battling its ass off in a tough atmosphere against one of the best teams in the country. This team is a reflection of what can happen when you consistently bring great effort, are tough, have good leadership, and remain coachable.
Texas added a signature win to its resume tonight, and goes for another Saturday at home against a Michigan State team that it can beat. All of a sudden, the Longhorns are in a position to really make some noise in the Big 12, and 20 wins at the end of the regular season is definitely in sight.
Barnes and his staff are doing a tremendous job with this young team. And they're enjoying the heck out of it.