Texas gives Smart 1st Longhorns win 67-56
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Longhorns flew 14 hours to China to lose Shaka Smart’s coaching debut at his new school. They came back home to get him his first burnt-orange victory.
Cam Ridley scored 14 points and tied his career high with 14 rebounds, and Smart’s players gave him a game ball and tackled him in the locker room after a 67-56 victory over Texas A&M Corpus Christi on Saturday night.
“I appreciate those guys acknowledging that,” Smart said with a smile.
Earlier in the week, he had asked point guard Isaiah Taylor, “Can your coach get a win please?”
The answer came on the big shoulders of Ridley, and the pressure defense and up-tempo offense Smart promised when he was hired from Virginia Commonwealth.
Texas (1-1) also got 12 points and nine rebounds from Connor Lammert. Lammert and Javan Felix combined for 14 points in the key second-half burst that gave the Longhorns breathing room against the Islanders (1-2).
Smart spent six seasons at VCU, and replaced former Texas coach Rick Barnes, who was fired after 17 seasons, 16 of which Texas made the NCAA tournament.
The win on their home court was just a stopover for the traveling Longhorns. The season-opener in Shanghai was a 15,000 mile roundtrip and the Longhorns next get on a plane for a 1,500-mile trip to play old Big 12 rival Texas A&M on Wednesday in the Battle 4 Atlantis Thanksgiving holiday tournament in the Bahamas.
“It was tough getting our body clock on the right schedule. The time change is tough,” Lammert said. “We’ve got another international trip. Thank goodness it’s not another 14-hour difference.”
Even with their legs sapped by jet lag from their travels, the Longhorns went early to Smart’s pressure and tempo. Texas shot 50 percent or better for most of the first half and forced nine early turnovers, turning them into 11 points in building a 37-28 lead by halftime.
After getting dominated on the boards by Washington, Ridley and Lammert, who both stand 6-10, combined for 11 first-half rebounds.
“My teammates looked for me and the rest of the big men,” Ridley said. “The goal was to get us more touches because we had a size advantage.”
Texas started slowly in the second half, with just two points over the first four minutes. Ehab Amin’s steal and layup from Ridley kept the Islanders within 43-38 with 11 minutes left, forcing Smart to call a timeout.
Lammert then hit a 3-pointer out of the break, the first of eight straight points from him, and Texas stretched the lead to 58-47 on consecutive 3-pointers by Felix. Texas made eight 3-pointers and held the Islanders to 25 percent shooting.
Bryce Douvier scored 14 points for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
“We played good enough defense to win,” Islanders coach Willis Wilson said. “Give them credit. They came off a long trip and played their brand of basketball.”
Texas expects to shoot a lot of 3-pointers this season and launched 20 against the Islanders after a 2-of-15 effort against Washington. Felix made four Saturday night and Lammert made three.
“I don’t know if we’ll shoot more as the season goes on, but when we’re open, we’re going to let them fly,” Felix said.
Texas: Smart is already off to a better start than his predecessor. Barnes started 0-4 in his first season at Texas in 1998-99 but rebounded that season to win the Big 12 title.
Texas A&M-CC: The Islanders will be hoping an experienced lineup can carry them a long way after a 20-win season last season. With eight seniors, the Islanders are second only to Tulsa with the most in the country.
Texas plays Texas A&M at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas on Wednesday
Texas A&M-CC hosts St. Edwards on Monday