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No. 17 Texas 66, Indiana 44: Horns knock Hoosiers back defensively, never let up in blowout

With fast-break points galore and Cunningham’s hustle, Texas advances to Maui Invitational championship

When’s the last time Texas just lined up and kicked somebody’s tail? For the sake of argument, let’s exclude the directional schools.

Texas guard Matt Coleman III (2) drives the ball against Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (23) in the first half of a semifinal NCAA college basketball game in the Maui Invitational tournament,Tuesday, Dec.1, 2020, in Asheville, N.C. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

There was a 22-point home win over West Virginia last season and a 20-point blowout at Kansas State. But generally speaking, the Longhorns have played mostly close games in coach Shaka Smart’s tenure. Some have ended well, others not so much.

Tuesday was something different. No. 17 Texas just lined up and kicked Indiana’s tail 66-44 in the Maui Invitational. The 22-point rout tied that West Virginia game from February 2019 as the biggest win over a Power Five opponent in Smart’s five-plus seasons.

Texas advanced to the Maui Invitational championship game at 3 p.m. Wednesday and will face No. 14 North Carolina. This year’s tournament is being held in Asheville, N.C.

Indiana coach Archie Miller looked stunned, as best anyone could tell on Zoom. His team’s 23.9% shooting total was just outside the top five in UT defensive history.

“Texas a little bit stunned our guys in the first four to five minutes of the game,” Miller said. The Hoosiers — you know, the Bob Knight, Isiah Thomas, Steve Alford, candy striped warmups brand Hoosiers — couldn’t reverse the ball, couldn’t work off screens or “do what we wanted to do,” Miller said.

Indiana’s 44 points was the program’s lowest scoring total in a decade. The basketball savvy Big Ten school had 43 on a miserable day against Iowa on Jan. 24, 2010.

“They imposed how early on how physical and how tough they were going to play,” Miller conceded, “and I thought that played a role and knocked us on our heels.”

Texas forward Jericho Sims (20) shoots for the basket over Indiana forward Race Thompson (25) and forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (23) in the first half of a semifinal NCAA college basketball game in the Maui Invitational tournament, Tuesday, Dec.1, 2020, in Asheville, N.C. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

The Longhorns are now 3-0 and headed to the Maui championship because of their defense. The Hoosiers (2-1) went 2-for-10 from 3-point range at Harrah’s Cherokee Center.

In three games, Texas has put up two of the top three defensive games in the Smart era. Texas held UT-Rio Grande Valley to 26.1% shooting. But then they turned around and let Davidson shoot 56.5% in Monday’s Maui opener, a figure that really stuck in Smart’s craw.

“Today we led with our defense, and that’s what our identity has to be,” Smart said. “We’ve got capable guys. If we can improve defending without fouling, we can be even better.”

The Horns were credited with three blocks but contested darn near everything. Indiana couldn’t get clean looks, and the Horns gobbled up 34 defensive rebounds. Heck, UT even had 14 offensive boards while Indiana managed just 11 field goals.

As Smart’s been preaching, defense first leads to points. The Horns had 22 fast-break points, their second-highest total in two-plus seasons.

Matt Coleman III had a team-high 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Courtney Ramey had 13 more, and Andrew Jones put in 12. Greg Brown had just two points, missed three 3-pointers and fouled out after 12 minutes. He’s a freshman who’s still learning.

But Texas’ veterans played like a group that’s been together for several years, which is indeed the case.

Jericho Sims had a frustrating day on the offensive end and still nabbed seven boards. Royce Hamm Jr. came off the bench and grabbed seven more.

Late in the first half, the Hoosiers went seven minutes, 50 seconds between made field goals. Texas led 46-31 after the break, and Miller got so upset, he drew a technical foul. The Hoosiers went on another long drought, going six minutes, 10 seconds between buckets.

Meanwhile, Coleman was hitting 20-footers, Ramey was driving for buckets and Kai Jones was catching lob passes for dunks along the way. It was as complete as it sounds.

And this blowout doesn’t happen without Brock Cunningham.

Cunningham is the epitome of someone who truly understands his role. He’s not a scorer, and yet the brown-haired bomber from Westlake hit two 3-pointers. He’s not a slasher, but still, he cut underneath his man several times to chase down rebounds.

“Brock is one of those guys you love playing with, but you hate playing against,” Coleman said.

Cunningham finished with 11 rebounds, six points, four assists and three steals. Had this game happened at home, the hundreds in attendance would have been roaring with approval.

“Brock Cunningham, I can’t wait to watch the hustle plays he had today,” Smart said. “That’s one of my most favorite things to do us just watch those plays because they’re winning plays, and they’re completely selfless plays.”

As Miller said of Cunningham, “When you’re dependable, that’s a really, really great asset to have.”

Smart is depending on this defense being there night in, night out. The Davidson win on Monday left Smart really non-plussed because he knew the Horns could be better. On Tuesday, it showed.

“I didn’t think we played poorly on defense in the Davidson game but I thought our one on one defense was not good enough,” Smart said. “And we did a did a much better job today.”