Rick Barnes can remember what he wore during his first game as a head coach, and years from now he'll remember what he wore on Tuesday night.
It was a historic night for the UT coach, and his team handed him a memorable victory just the way he likes it - with suffocating defense and efficient offense. Barnes became the 50th basketball coach all-time to record 500 career victories, and is the 12th active coach to pull off the impressive feat. After a heartbreaking loss to Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden, No. 22 Texas (4-1) returned home and thumped Sam Houston State 84-50 in dominant fashion.
Texas got off to a quick start thanks to a flurry of points from Cory Joseph, Jordan Hamilton and Dogus Balbay in the first half. Hamilton (25 points and nine rebounds) knocked down a transition three that helped fuel a 13-0 run during the middle of the first half. With a 25-8 lead at the 7:35 mark in the first half, UT controlled the game the rest of the way.
The Bearkats cut it to 11 early in the second, but J'Covan Brown (12 points and three rebounds) sparked an 18-4 run immediately afterwards which led to a blowout victory. Defensively, the Horns held a solid offensive group to just 29.2 percent shooting from the floor while knocking down shots at a scorching 55.0 percent offensively.
BARNES ENJOYS MILESTON WIN
Not many coaches have experienced the amount of success Barnes has at the collegiate level, and the UT head coach tried to put it into perspective some.
"Like I told the team, I have been extremely well blessed in my lifetime," said Barnes. "One, I have an incredible family. This has not been easy on them all of the time through all of the years. I would not be here today if I were not for them. I've had great presidents. I have been at great universities. I have had great athletic directors. Obviously, I have had tremendous coaches that have been with me through the whole thing and great players. Driving today, I thought about some of my players that I have coached. Some of those guys are in their 40s now."
After the game, the Horns' coach tried to relay a specific message to his team in regards to his 500th victory.
"My message to the team before the game was really about staying in the moment. I told them after the game that what I have learned from all of this and through a lifetime of it is that life is a vapor. It goes by so quick," Barnes said. "I could close my eyes right now and tell you exactly what I wore the first game and Rutgers, playing Seton Hall in the preseason NIT. I can tell you exactly what I wore and exactly what I said to my team. It seems like yesterday. I told them whether they know it or not that it will go by really quick for them. That is why you have to embrace it every day."
About the milestone, Barnes' starting point guard and veteran leader Balbay added with a smile, "I hope he gets another 500. We gave him the game ball after the game."
BALBAY RECORDS A CAREER HIGH
As a senior, Balbay continues to blossom and improve from game-to-game. Coming off of the knee surgery hasn't hurt his game at all, and the point guard is playing as well as ever. Regarded as a glue guy by his coach, Balbay took the floor tonight wanting to execute the game plan to perfection.
"I just ran the court and tried to get easy buckets. My coaches told me to push the ball before the game and I think I did a good job of executing on the court. I don't really care about the career high," the 6-1, 175 pound senior said with a smile.
As usual, Balbay's defense was sensational, and he was one of the main reasons why the Horns were able to shut down the SHSU guards around the perimeter. He grabbed three boards and recorded two steals, but what probably stood out the most was his efficiency on offense; mainly his ability to get to the rim. Balbay scored a career high 14 points from the floor on 6-of-8 shooting. Plus, he went a perfect 2-for-2 from the free throw line and continues to shot the ball with a much improved touch and stroke this season.
"I've been working on it a lot," said Balbay about the free throws. "I'm just trying to take my time and focus and do the same routine every time."
NEW OFFENSE CLICKING
If Barnes continues to get this type of production out of Balbay offensively; his team is going to be extremely tough to defend. And the early change this season is bringing in impressive results thus far from Balbay and the rest of the team.
"Well, a year ago we had to do so many different things because of the way people played our personnel. This time of year most coaches are going to be worried and concerned about what they do. And they want to establish what they're trying do," said Barnes about the new offensive look compared to last year's. "But once you get into conference play they know personnel so well they start playing personnel. A year ago people didn't guard Dogus a lot. Obviously, it seemed [like] we had to adjust all the time because of the different lineups. We wanted an offense that was going to work regardless of how they played personnel. So we put him [Dogus] where he's moving a lot more. Last year we pick and rolled more and people wouldn't guard him. Now we've got him moving and he likes to move. And he likes to screen and we're getting him in an area where he has to be guarded, it's helped [Jai] Lucas too and it's helped all of us in some ways."
Still, there is always room for improvement, and an issue that plagued the Horns last season on offense can still be improved.
"The last couple of games we haven't reversed the ball enough," said Barnes. "We've been able to get it into the post on the first side, which we want to attack if we can do that we'll do it. But we've got to get a little bit more movement."
JOSEPH RELAXES SOME ON OFFENSE
Cory Joseph enrolled at Texas after being one of the most sought after, and most talented point guards in the country. His overall skill set is what made him a top-10 national product, but through the first four games, the 6-3 freshman hasn't settled in offensively. Against the Bearkats, Joseph took a step in the right direction and was immediately more comfortable with eight first half points.
"Yeah, I just tried to stop thinking as much and just tried to go within the flow of the game, and it worked," said Joseph who had nine points on 3-of-5 shooting. "I just tried to come off the screens and I knew it was part of the flow of the game and part of the offense and just try to not play outside of my game. And I just came off and hit a couple of jumpers."
Even Barnes noticed a more relaxed Joseph, but he veteran coach felt it coming. In fact, that very topic came up over the last few days after the loss to Pittsburgh.
"Yeah he did [look more comfortable]. But I wasn't surprised because we've talked to him the last couple of days about being the player that he is," Barnes said. "He wasn't even looking for his shot. He was just really trying to play perfect, [and] trying to do everything right. He [wanted] to keep the ball moving thinking in terms of a point guard. He was turning down shots that were getting us in trouble and tonight he got aggressive and we needed him to do that."
THOMPSON THE FOCUS OF SHSU'S DEFENSIVE PLAN
After balling in front of a national audience against two great teams, Tristan Thompson realized what it was like to be the focus of the opposition's defensive plan on Tuesday. The 6-9 freshman scored just three points on 1-of-4 shooting, and faced a lot of double teams. After his display in New York, you can't exactly blame the Bearkats for their approach.
"I think the very first play of the game they ran Dogus' guy over there to double. And that's where Dogus got the layup and Tristan found him. I actually told him that during the game, 'Now you know when people game plan for you it's a little bit tougher.' They came in with the idea that [they] weren't going to give him any space down there. He'll learn from it. No doubt. To be a guy that scores consistently, it's hard because teams game plan."
But the three points weren't a bad a thing at all. Thompson showed the ability to feel the defense, and pass out of double teams. He didn't force the issue, and his team didn't need him to. Also, the super athletic power forward was one of the main reasons why star SHSU forward Gilberto Clavell shot 6-of-22 from the floor.
The Longhorns host the Rice Owls at the Frank Erwin Center on November 27 at 3:00 p.m.