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No. 13 Texas 74, Texas State 53: Dunk-a-thon helps Longhorns cruise over Bobcats

Freshman Greg Brown had a season-high 18 points as Texas now prepares to face No. 2 Baylor

Texas forward Kai Jones dunks during the first half of Wednesday night's 74-53 win over Texas State at the Erwin Center.

Texas unveiled a new pregame hype video Wednesday with all the highlights from last week’s Maui Invitational championship. The sweet, dulcet tones of play-by-play man Craig Way were melodic. 

“Slam dunk!” Way shouted in sync with the highlights. 

“Throws it down with authority!”

“Slam dunk!”

Seeing those highlights must’ve lit a spark, because the 13th-ranked Longhorns kept the dunk-a-thon going against Texas State in a 74-53 win at the Erwin Center. 

The first play was a snap pass to Jericho Sims, who didn’t even dribble before taking flight for a two-handed flush. Kai Jones threw one down, Courtney Ramey and Gerald Liddell got some action, too.

Who knows if Texas (5-1) gets all these dunk chances in Sunday’s Big 12 opener at No. 2 Baylor? But at least the Longhorns will head north on Interstate 35 feeling confident.

“We needed a lot of dunks because we weren't shooting the ball well from outside,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said.

Well, there’s that. The Longhorns had nine dunks on 12 made field goals in the first half along with a 2-of-9 shooting performance from 3-point range. The final figures were fine (43% shooting overall, 7-for-22 from long range). Still, this was about being aggressive from the get-go and not giving the Bobcats (3-2) any hope for an upset.

“We just wanted to really make a statement today,” guard Andrew Jones said. “You know, we were aggressive, but we weren’t as aggressive as we should be.”

These nonconference games have been tricky for Smart’s teams in the past. Andrew Jones was here for the UT-Arlington and Kent State debacles in 2016. Jones himself brought up the Radford fiasco in November 2018.

You can’t take these nonconference paycheck games lightly. Look at Kansas State. The Wildcats were caught sleepwalking at home Tuesday and lost to Division II Fort Hays State. It was so bad, K-State coach Bruce Weber apologized to the fan base. Little ol’ Abilene Christian gave Texas Tech real problems Wednesday night, too.

Smart hammered his players about Wednesday being a statement game, even though most looked at UT’s opponent and didn’t think twice.

“We wanted to make sure they understood that if Indiana was, if North Carolina was, if Villanova was, then Texas State should be,” Smart said. 

There were good stretches and some odd ones, too, like when the Horns went 0-for-5 in the first half. At one point, Smart made wholesale substitutions because players weren’t talking on defense. “If you’re not going to talk, we’ve got to (get) five new guys in there,” he said.

Texas guard Matt Coleman III breaks away with the ball against Texas State on Wednesday. The Longhorns open Big 12 play on Sunday at Baylor.

Forward Brock Cunningham left the game with a chest contusion. Smart indicated he would be fine. Considering the guy hits the floor with reckless abandon, how bad could it really be? “It seems like he's feeling OK,” Smart said afterward.

One player still feeling his way is Greg Brown. The freshman continues to show flashes of incredible potential mixed with moments of freshman-ness.

His most impressive play Wednesday might have been when he drew a double team but kept charging to the bucket. Brown got the layup to fall, drew a foul and finished the three-point play with 4:35 remaining. That gave Texas a 62-45 lead.

For all of Brown’s high-flying dunks, baseline drives and 3-point shots, the rough-and-tumble plays are what get truly noticed. He had a season-high 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting and made three good-looking, in-rhythm 3-pointers. 

“It’s been a kind of a struggle for me on the offensive end,” Brown said in his first post-game Zoom appearance since joining UT. “What I’m trying to keep learning is how to play with pace, just play off my teammates and hope the game slows down for me.

“In high school, I was just a one man show,” the Vandegrift product added. “But now I have other good players on my team. I’ve got to use them.”

Practically every player on this roster is on his own unique journey. Andrew Jones wasn’t too pleased with getting benched in the second half against Villanova, so he wanted to play better. He finished with 11 points and had six rebounds. Courtney Ramey also had 11 points along with six assists.

Coaches and teammates challenged Sims the last two days, and he responded. The cerebral big man had eight points and pulled down nine boards. Even his customary early foul didn’t throw him out of whack this time.

Mason Harrell (14 points) was the only Bobcat to finish in double figures. Isiah Small’s layup with 9:46 remaining made it a seven-point game, but Texas never felt truly threatened. 

Andrew Jones made sure of that with a running one-handed dunk with 6:39 to play. Brown got rolling late, and the Bobcats were dispatched with ease. 

Things will get considerably more difficult for Texas, though. After Baylor, UT will drop back down to face Sam Houston State for a midweek game on Dec. 16. Then, Smart’s club will have to turn it back up to host Oklahoma State.

The Big 12 schedule starts now, not in January as is custom. Andrew Jones is thankful for each opportunity. He turned 23 on Wednesday, and planned on a quiet night with friends and teammates. 

Now’s not the time to get dunked on by the pandemic. 

“And jeopardize the season to risk COVID? Nah,” Jones said. 

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.