It was starting to look like the same old story for the Longhorns on Friday night against Alabama.
Like their previous three games — all losses — Texas played victim to a sluggish start. The team opened the matchup against Alabama with three consecutive turnovers and struggled to shoot the ball throughout the half. After the first frame, Texas trailed the Crimson Tide, 38-26, and looked to be well on their way to a fourth consecutive loss.
But unlike their previous three games, the Longhorns showed resiliency after a disparaging start and fought back to capture a 77-68 win. Senior center Shaquille Cleare, who finished with 11 points, said the team never doubted they could recover from an early deficit.
“Going into halftime and we were down 12, our guys were motivated,” Cleare said. “Our heads weren’t dropped, and we knew we had a chance to win this game. We just fought back, we executed and we came up with the W.”
After allowing Alabama to shoot nearly 50 percent from the field in the first half, the Longhorns ramped up their defensive intensity, stifling the Crimson Tide to only 9-of-22 shooting in the second. Head coach Shaka Smart dialed up the pressure, employing the full-court press throughout the half.
“We definitely played harder on the defensive end, and I think it’s just guys understanding that this is what we have to do,” Smart said. “We wanted to get some tempo going by using the press, and that helped us to not make it be a half-court game on every possession.”
The Longhorns shook off the poor shooting that has plagued them all season and finally looked to be in rhythm offensively, shooting 56 percent after the break.
The burnt orange clawed their way back into the game and took their first lead, 45-44, with 12:47 left in the contest.
From that point on, it was a tightly contested affair. The two teams traded leads the rest of the way until Texas exploded for a 15-5 run in the game’s final four minutes to put the game on ice.
The Longhorns featured a balanced offense, with five players scoring into the double digits. Sophomore guard Kerwin Roach finished as the contest’s high-point man with 16.
Roach attributed the team’s offensive resurgence to the insertion of sophomore guard Tevin Mack and freshman guard Andrew Jones into the starting lineup. The guards took the place of senior guard Kendal Yancy and sophomore guard Eric Davis Jr.
“Eric [Davis] has been in a slump, and Kendall [Yancy] too,” Roach said. “I just feel like [Mack and Jones] really came out with the energy we needed and executed on offense.”
Texas hopes the win will springboard into multiple victories as the season progresses.
“This is a little glimpse of what we can be like,” Cleare said. “Going forward, we need to continue to be humble and work hard.”
On Tuesday, the Longhorns travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to take on the Wolverines in their first true road game of the season at 8 p.m.