Shaka Smart could feel his team stalling. After a loss to Providence, where his team looked disjointed on the offensive end, the fourth-year head coach decided to make a change in his rotation.
Jaxson Hayes and Elijah Mitrou-Long checked into the starting lineup, while Jericho Sims and Jase Febres moved out. Royce Hamm came into the game and provided meaningful minutes off the bench in his second consecutive appearance of the season.
And Smart’s changes paid dividends for the Longhorns in their first trail run, with Texas cruising to a lopsided 76-56 victory against UT-Arlington at the Frank Erwin Center on Friday night.
The trio of Hayes, Mitrou-Long and Hamm contributed 25 points and 11 rebounds on the evening. Hamm, in particular, showed why Smart has praised his efforts during recent practices. In his role off the bench, the sophomore forward energized the Texas lineup by grabbing three offensive rebounds and putting in 10 points of his own.
But in the first half, the Longhorns failed to separate themselves. Despite shooting a respectable 43 percent from the field, Texas only led by seven points heading into the break because of another underwhelming effort from behind the three-point line. The Longhorns shot 15 percent from three at the end of the first period.
Coming out of the break, Texas focused its efforts on the working the ball inside, moving away from a reliance on the three ball. Kerwin Roach II, who added 11 points, jumpstarted the Texas offense in the period with three consecutive field goals made after attacking the UT-Arlington defense off the dribble.
“That’s who he needs to be,” Smart said of Roach’s aggressive style of driving towards the rim.
And the Longhorns found success with the formula, finding easier buckets and earning trips to the foul line. The change proved helpful for the Longhorns’ shooting from deep as well, as they shot 50 percent from behind the arc during the second half.
Roach’s effort and the Longhorns’ ability to make more open shots helped Texas outscore the Mavericks 43-30 in the second period, which secured a comfortable victory.
“We fought them for a while, but the early part of the second half they stretched on us and beat us to a couple of loose balls, knocked down some shots,” UT-Arlington head coach Chris Ogden told the Associated Press. “They separated and it was hard to get it back.”
Friday signified a critical victory for the Longhorns, who will now enter a rigorous Big 12 schedule where wins are difficult to come by. And while Smart and his team can enjoy victory for the time being, the Longhorns’ first conference game against Kansas State on Wednesday night will begin to reveal who Texas truly is.