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In knocking off Iowa State, No. 4 Texas no longer hoping to win but expecting to

Longhorns improve to 3-0 in Big 12 play for the first time since the 2010-11 season

Texas guard Andrew Jones drives to the basket during the Longhorns' 78-72 win over Iowa State on Tuesday night at the Erwin Center. Jones scored a career-high 23 points.

Tuesday was one of those nights where you were almost afraid to watch Texas down the stretch.

The Longhorns had a 15-point lead midway through the second half but just couldn’t put it away. Persnickety Iowa State crawled back within single digits and eventually whittled it down to six with 1:12 remaining.

Hey, no big deal. Matt Coleman III buried a step-back jumper, and the Horns closed out a 78-72 win at the free throw line. No. 4 Texas (9-1, 3-0 Big 12) had no problems in its first game as a top-five team in almost a decade. 

Andrew Jones rang up a new career-high 23 points on 10-of-20 shooting while four others finished in double figures. Texas was plus-12 in rebounding margin to help offset an off night from 3-point range (8-of-26). 

There wasn’t a single fan at the Erwin Center to witness it, though. The pandemic has forced school officials to keep the arena closed for the time being. It may stay that way for a while, too. 

That’s a shame, because Texas is off to its best league start since the 2010-11 season.

Players huddle during a timeout in the first half of Texas' 78-72 win over Iowa State on Tuesday. No fans were allowed in because of COVID-19 protocols.

“We are a group of guys that really worked in our games over the offseason, really looked to improve and be better as a team,” Jones said. “And it’s all starting to come out. As we play, we trust each other. We trust our work.”

It would seem coach Shaka Smart’s team no longer hopes to win, with its fingers crossed, eyes closed and hoping the other team misses. This is morphing into a team that expects to win and carries itself accordingly. There’s a huge difference.

This wasn’t a one-night thing, either. It’s been happening all season. Texas blew Indiana’s doors off. Coleman’s dagger killed North Carolina. There was special pleasure in beating Oklahoma State. And then came Saturday’s rompin’, stompin’ tear through No. 3 Kansas in Lawrence.

“I think our guys definitely have more confidence to expect to win,” Smart said. “I definitely felt that on Saturday. Our guys expected to win. And it’s a fine line. As we like to tell the players as coaches, expect to win but expect to do what goes into winning. And you know, largely our guys have done that.”

To be fair, it’s not like Iowa State (2-6, 0-4) is the cat’s meow. The Cyclones sure have a hard slog ahead. But Smart thought this was something of a “trap game” since his players were coming off the Kansas win and possibly looking toward Saturday’s road trip to No. 14 West Virginia.

“We owe everybody something. We’ve got a lot to prove,” Jones said. “We want to let everybody know that Texas is here, and we’re here to stay.”

Texas was without Royce Hamm Jr. and Kamaka Hepa again because of COVID-19 protocols. Injured guard Jase Febres (knee) went through warmups but wound up not playing. Smart had the same eight players Tuesday that he used Saturday against the Jayhawks.

And the start was what you might expect. The Cyclones jumped out to a 16-10 lead in an empty gym where you could hear everything — from coaches yelling at their players to Smart barking at the officials. Even Longhorn Network play-by-play man Lowell Galindo’s voice echoed through The Drum on Jericho Sims’ impressive two-handed dunk.

That play lit the spark. Kai Jones threw down a vicious dunk off a run-out, Greg Brown hit a 17-footer, Courtney Ramey scored and Andrew Jones did, too, in a 14-3 run.

Andrew Jones’ 15-foot floater and Kai Jones’ next dunk helped Texas take a 37-27 halftime lead. At that point, Sims and Kai Jones had combined for 14 rebounds to clean up 2-of-12 shooting from 3-point range.

Texas forward Greg Brown battles for the rebound along with Jericho Sims during Tuesday night's win over Iowa State.

Sims was coming off his first double-double of the season at Kansas. He finished with 10 points and eight rebounds against Iowa State. Sims also buckled down on Iowa State’s Solomon Young, who started hot but slowly fizzled. Young finished with 13 points and eight boards. 

If the Horns can get Sims to reach a high level of consistency, look out.

“I just feel like everything is opening up now as we get in league play,” Sims said, sounding confident as ever. “I remember this time last year, I really started to take off as far as playing better and my contributions to the team.”

Texas was cruising down the stretch. Ramey (10 points) and Andrew Jones both hit 3-pointers as the Horns had a 70-55 lead. And then Javan Johnson (21 points) scored once. Then again. And again. Suddenly, Iowa State had it back to 73-67 with plenty of time remaining.

Texas didn’t panic. Remember, this program that’s gone 15-11 in games decided by two points or less in Smart’s six seasons. Anything can happen. And usually does.

“I think our guys down the stretch,” Smart said, “like you said, they didn't panic.”

Maybe, just maybe, this team is different. Of course, only three games into Big 12 play, there’s still all kinds of room for exponential growth.

“We want to continue to make statements, game by game, day by day,” Andrew Jones said. “So we want to get it back in the lab prepare for West Virginia and try to go up there and make a statement.”

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