With game on line, McClellan stays perfect from charity stripe to outlast Fresno State

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On the surface, Texas’ 55-53 win over Fresno State in its season opener was a stodgy, sloppy game that very well could have ended in disappointment for the Longhorns.

But dig a little deeper than the box score and you’ll find a brazen performance from one of the Longhorns’ leaders.

With the game tied at 48 points late in the second half, the Longhorns were in need of help on offense. Shots were not falling, turnovers were abundant and overtime seemed imminent. The only option Texas had left was to do what it had been doing all game in hope of a different outcome. The Longhorns continued to feed guard Sheldon McClellan the ball, and he finally was able to force defenders to guard him around the rim. McClellan was able to draw fouls on successive possessions late in the game, sending him to the charity stripe where he would score six points in the game’s final two minutes.

Still just a sophomore, McClellan turned in a 20-point performance that enabled Texas to sustain a collective second half scoring slump and slip past the upset-minded Bulldogs.

McClellan’s 21st double-digit showing of his young career hardly came in a conventional manner. After a dismal first half shooting the ball, McClellan continued to have issues after the intermission. He would finish 3-of-10 from the field, but his perfect 14-of-14 night at the free-throw line became the driving component to the Longhorns’ eventual win.

Down two starters and its leading scorer from last year, Texas knew it would struggle to score points. McClellan averaged 11.3 points per game last season, but as head coach Rick Barnes has pointed out on more than one occasion, he sometimes hesitates to shoot and consequently squanders
scoring opportunities.

“He’s got to shoot those shots,” said Barnes. “Our biggest problem is he doesn’t shoot it enough. We kept telling him that he was going to make more of those.”

As this season progresses, McClellan must take advantage of open looks and have an attack-first mentality in order to set the tone for the Longhorns’ offense. Whereas the team would rely on consistent scoring from J’Covan Brown last year, the load will have to be spread more efficiently this season. McClellan possesses all the attributes of a natural scorer and can be as explosive a player as anyone in the nation. What’s been missing is that certain something that elevates him to a level beyond being just a scorer and makes him a team leader. Some might argue that even Brown never reached that level. But after showing some serious grit in the late stages against the Bulldogs, McClellan may be closer to securing a role as a go-to guy for Texas.

“Looking at the whole game, I think we have a lot of work to do,” sophomore forward Jonathan Holmes said. “The way we work, I think we’ll get it done.”

Printed on Monday, November 12, 2012 as: McClellan leads Horns, stays perfect at the line