Through 32 minutes, the Longhorns got just two combined points from leading scorer Sheldon McClellan and point guard Javan Felix. Add in Jonathan Holmes, who missed the game with a broken bone in his hand, and the Longhorns got just two points in the first 32 minutes from three of their top four scorers.
Yet Texas led the Red Raiders by double-digits, the result of unexpected boosts from center Cameron Ridley and reserve guard DeMarcus Holland, two players who helped turn recent team trends — most specifically the Longhorns' recent five-game losing streak — on its head.
Texas showed some press and forced Tech into turnovers, a trait the Longhorn defense hadn't showed much this season. And most importantly, the Longhorns, finding themselves in a familiar place with a lead late in the second half, closed things out to get a 73-57 win, leaving nothing in doubt.
In fact, when McClellan finally started scoring with less than eight minutes left, he burst for eight late points to help keep the game out of reach, sealing a game that had seen the lead trickle into single digits.
"Really, the best part was when we were up 13 and they cut it to eight and we hadn't in the past responded the way we'd like, but tonight we did," said Texas coach Rick Barnes. "It was good. They were changing defenses. We stayed with it."
Texas was aided by a defense that forced 19 turnovers, including 12 turnovers in the first half. And the Longhorns scored a whopping 22 points off those turnovers. Holland was at the center of that, grabbing three steals and outracing the Red Raiders for multiple easy buckets in transition.
Holland's performance — he scored nine first-half points — along with an aggressive effort from Ridley, who had six points, nine boards and two blocks in the first stanza, spurred Texas to a 35-24 first-half lead. Ridley's aggressive nature showed on a pair of plays. When Ridley ran down a fast break from behind and blocked a shot, it prevented an easy basket. And he dove on the floor to grab a loose ball and create a tie-up, earning a handshake from Barnes in the process.
"Cam definitely set the tone that we wanted early, with his effort and his intensity inside," Barnes said. "We kept talking about putting the ball inside and putting pressure on people."
Holland helped to cover for Felix, who was in foul trouble in the first half. And when Felix — whom Barnes praised for his defensive effort — returned, Texas surged with second-half scoring from Ioannis Papapetrou and Sheldon McClellan.
Ioannis Papapetrou started at the four in place of the injured Jonathan Holmes and made his impact felt, scoring 15 points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing out five assists. It was his highest point output since scoring 17 against UT-Arlington earlier this season.
Julien Lewis led all Longhorn scorers with 18 points, while Papapetrou (15), Holland (11) and McClellan (10) joined him in double-figures.
"We did an excellent job of moving the ball and playing an inside out game by getting ball inside to Cam," Lewis said. "He did a really good job making plays and then we started kicking it out and hitting shots."Ridley spearheaded the defensive effort with 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals in 21 minutes. In all, six Longhorns had two or more steals.
Tech shot just 37.0 percent from the field, though the Red Raiders did dominate on the glass, grabbing 17 offensive rebounds to Texas's 18 defensive boards and 36 total rebounds to Texas's 30. Jordan Tolbert was responsible for much of that process with 13 rebounds (eight offensive) and 18 points. Only one other Tech player, Dusty Hannahs, scored in double digits with 10.
"I was surprised no one asked me this week if it was a must-win situation," Barnes said. "I would have said, when you're 0-5, it's a pretty obvious must-win situation. It is and there is a lot of basketball left to play. We have just got to continue to build.
"When the season started, what we really felt and what we'd worked on was extending our defense and getting back to doing a lot of things like that," Barnes said. "We wanted to create offense with our defense. With all the things that happened, we had to get away from that because we started having to do other things with guys. What we did tonight is how we envisioned ourselves playing."