Texas’ Chris Beard may have ‘a Christmas list full of concerns’ but holidays are better after win
Dylan Disu one of four Texas scorers in double figures against 1-10 Alabama State
Pro tip for those attending last-minute holiday parties: lay off the snacks. Sure, the caramel-coated popcorn, chocolate pretzels and candy canes are sweet treats. But it’s just empty calories that aren’t fulfilling.
Kind of like No. 16 Texas playing 1-10 Alabama State three days before Christmas.
With the Rice men’s basketball program on a COVID-19 pause, Texas officials could have just released the Longhorns early for the holiday break. Instead, UT landed a game with Alabama State, currently ranked 309th nationally in Division I according to the NCAA’s NET rankings.
What good is buying that ugly holiday sweater if you never wear it, right?
Little was learned in the Horns’ 68-48 victory Wednesday at the Erwin Center. The Hornets came in as 30-point underdogs and hung around as long as they could. Texas had four players in double figures and pulled away late to improve to 9-2.
Sure beats a lump of coal in one’s burnt orange stocking.
“Alabama State lost a game against UCLA, so these guys were kind enough to come play the game. Really appreciate it, too,” Texas coach Chris Beard said. “They pushed us tonight and that’s exactly what we needed.”
Dylan Disu had 14 points, four rebounds and three blocks in a season-high 17 minutes. There’s no question he should be full strength when Big 12 play begins on New Year’s Day. “Every game I felt better just from a stamina standpoint,” Disu said. “I think you could tell just from like my explosiveness in game.”
Marcus Carr had 13 points, Andrew Jones put up 12 and Timmy Allen had 10 points with seven boards. The Horns (9-2) didn’t have a single fast-break point but scored 32 in the paint and eight off second chances.
“One thing I said coming into the game was that if they force us into 20 turnovers, they’re probably going to win the game,” interim Alabama State coach Trey Johnson said. “That’s exactly what they did.”
The most interesting thing about Alabama State is that’s where former Texas forward Gerald Liddell landed. He spent the last two-plus seasons at UT playing for former coach Shaka Smart but left the program after the 2020 fall semester.
Liddell eventually chose Alabama State to play for coach Mo Williams, who guided Liddell during his AAU days. Williams himself had to miss Wednesday's game to be with his wife, who was expecting.
Liddell opened the proceedings with an impressive 16-footer en route to his team-high 16 points. He hit another mid-range shot and got fouled by former teammate Jones on a 3-point attempt. Liddell hit all three free throws, giving the Hornets a 13-2 lead.
“Wake up!,” one vocal Texas fan shouted at the home team.
The Horns did. Eventually.
Mitchell hit a 3-pointer, and then Disu went flying over everyone for a one-handed flush. Jones hit a jumper in the paint, and then Disu scored twice up close. Still, Texas trailed by three.
Trace Young’s high-arching 3-pointer was an impressive answer to the Texas flurry. UT finally got back to par with 2:55 remaining on Jase Febres’ 3-pointer. Heck, the Horns wouldn’t take their first lead until Christian Bishop fed Disu for a layup with 1:05 before halftime.
Beard wants his teams thinking defense first, second and always. But on the other end, it feels like Beard is getting more passes than Norman Dale.
The Texas guards habitually passed up open shots for one or two extra passes. Beard had a one-on-one talk with Courtney Ramey after he passed up a corner 3-pointer, and the senior guard didn’t play again. Ramey logged only four minutes.
“Yes, we have good shooters turning down open shots,” Beard said. “And we’re working hard to get this remedied.”
The Horns were 7-for-24 from 3-point range. Jones and Febres went 3-for-12 combined themselves. This could be chalked up as a one-off if Texas didn’t have lackluster 3-point numbers against Seton Hall (1 for 13) and Stanford (4 for 16). This is now an area that needs monitoring.
“When the shot clock gets late, we’ve got to take those shots,” Beard said. “That’s been a little frustrating. The last two games, we’ve had veteran players make that mistake. But we're turning down open shots, and we’ve got to get that fixed.
“But I don’t think it’s the worst problem in the world, because it shows that our guys are trying to play team basketball and they care about the guy next to him,” Beard added. “We can easily turn this thing up. It's just harder sometimes to turn it down.”
And as for the shots just not going in?
“I would be concerned if I didn’t hear the ball bouncing late at night, early in the morning,” Beard said. “I’d be concerned if I didn't know the players were paying the price. We’ve got a lot of guys working really hard in this program.”
Texas has only one more nonconference game before Big 12 play starts against West Virginia. Tuesday’s opponent Incarnate Word ranks 339th in the NCAA’s NET rankings, so there won’t be much to glean there, either.
Asked if there was anything that bothers him this close to league play, Beard said, “Bothers me? No. Because we’re confident guys. But concern? Oh, heck yeah, got a Christmas list full of concerns.”
At least on Wednesday, losing to a SWAC team wasn’t one of them.