No one really knows what to expect from the uber-young Texas Longhorns basketball team in 2013, but if tonight’s gritty 76-73 win over the Mercer Bears is any indication, things could be better than expected. Playing all 10 guys available on the presumed depth chart, Texas saw some first-tier performances in particular from true freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor and sophomore center Cam Ridley.
Texas improved to 14-2 in home openers in the Rick Barnes era with the win, and is 32-5 all time in home openers at the Frank Erwin Center.
It truly was a game of runs as both Mercer and Texas enjoyed double-digit leads at different points in the contest, but neither team was able to hold onto the leads they established or extend upon them. Rick Barnes’ team played with an impressive level of grit, however, in spite of some general struggles in ball handling and defensive rotations which are to be expected in the early going, especially with a team as young as the Longhorns.
Texas’ perimeter shooting was solid, with Taylor, sophomore shooting guard Javan Felix and sophomore combo guard Demarcus Holland all hitting open jumpers and making key plays when needed, the biggest of the evening coming on a Holland dunk to close things out in the final seconds when Mercer failed to foul and put Texas on the line to give themselves one last chance to stay in the contest.
In a season full of uncertainty, Texas will need a leader to emerge and given what was apparent this evening, that leader could well be Isaiah Taylor. Now, obviously, you expect your point guard to be a natural leader and command that others follow not only through their ability to control the offense and distribute the ball, but to also play solid on-ball defense. Against Mercer, Taylor did both with confidence and swagger, also showing some nice moves to the basket and an ability to break down the defense to create some shots for the Longhorns’ perimeter shooters who had a solid evening as a group.
Playing Mercer in a season opener is far from your traditional “guarantee game” cupcakes which we so often see on the schedules of teams looking to ensure a W is notched in the right column to kick off the season. Texas got all they could handle, and then some, and rose to the occasion when the pressure was greatest. Who knows how the Texas Longhorns will finish this season — in reality it could be anywhere from sub .500 to an NCAA Tourney appearance — but if tonight’s solid, inspired performance is any indication, this team is not the diva-laden team which took the court twice a week at the Drum in 2012.
Kris Hughes is a Senior Writer, Business Analyst and College Content Coordinator for Rant Sports.