McClellan Powers Longhorns Past Bulldogs

On a night when the Longhorns couldn't seem to buy buckets, Sheldon McClellan bulled his way to the line and earned them the hard way, willing Texas to a 55-53 victory over Fresno State in the Longhorns' basketball season opener.

McClellan's night from the free throw line — he went 14-14 — propelled him to 20 points despite a 3-of-10 night from the floor, including an 0-for-4 string from the three-point line. But McClellan was hardly the only Longhorn who struggled to find his range. As a team, Texas shot just 36.7 percent from the floor and 1-for-13 from three.

Perhaps some of that could be attributed to the Longhorns missing from the floor. Texas played without starting point guard and top-notch table-setter Myck Kabongo and only dished out three assists as a team. Less obvious was the absence of rebounder-extraordinaire Jaylen Bond. The Longhorns pounded the glass to a plus-11 rebound advantage, helped by both the big — Johnathan Holmes grabbed 14 boards, including eight offensive rebounds — and the small. Kabongo's replacement, Javan Felix, pulled down nine.

Felix had an outstanding first half, scoring eight points and snagging seven rebounds carrying an at-times-awkward Texas team that finished the first half tied at 25. Texas surprised many by coming out in a 2-3 zone to start the game, and made full use of its depth early, as nine Longhorns saw the court in The Opening 10 minutes.

"I was a little surprised to be honest with you," said second-year Fresno State coach Rodney Terry of Texas coach Rick Barnes's decision to go zone.

Terry was an assistant under Barnes from 2002-2011, and said after the game he was shocked Barnes — a renowned man-to-man guy — went the zone route, but he also pointed to the Longhorns' increased size, and the fact that Texas likely didn't want to chase around the Bulldogs' four-out, one-in offense. Barnes took it a step further, pointing to the fact that the Longhorns knew Felix would be playing big minutes and wanted to rest his legs.

Felix, who played 38 minutes, faltered a bit in the second half, shooting 1-for-8 in the stanza and finishing up with 10 points and nine boards. But as Felix cooled off, McClellan went to work. He didn't hit a jumper all game, but the sophomore fought his way to the rim time after time, earning a couple layups and 12 second-half free throw attempts. He tipped in one errant attempt as well, while scoring 18 of the Longhorns' 30 second-half points.

"I think I missed my first three or four shots," McClellan said. "I think last year I would have stopped shooting the ball. This year, coach told me to score for the team. I just kept being in attack mode. I kept my confidence up by going to the free throw line."

Texas had its chances to pull away in the final minutes, but couldn't string together any sort of run.

The Longhorns appeared to catch a big break when Julien Lewis was intentionally fouled on a fast break opportunity with just inside of six minutes left. Lewis made one of two free throws, then McClellan tipped in his own miss for a three-point lead. Fresno State tied within a minute.

The Longhorns built a two-possession lead at the 1:12 mark when McClellan knocked down four consecutive free throws with a defensive stop sandwiched between. But Texas nearly gave it right back. Allen Huddleston was fouled with 56 seconds left and made one-of-two, with Kevin Foster rebounding the missed free throw. Jerry Brown was then fouled, and he made one-of two.

Coming out of a timeout, Texas was able to generate a close-in floater opportunity for Felix, but his shot fell off, and Fresno State had a chance to tie or take the lead at 52-50. But Kevin Olekaibe jacked up a quick, off-balance three-pointer — Fresno wanted a foul called — with 15 seconds left and Ioannis Papapetrou grabbed the rebound. McClellan hit two more free throws to basically put the game away before Tyler Johnson hit a three with 0.7 seconds left. After a dead-ball foul, Holmes hit one-of-two to end things up.

The Longhorns, who started three freshmen in Felix, Papapetrou and Cameron Ridley, did a nice job of playing defense for the most part, holding Fresno State to 35.6 percent shooting. The Bulldogs' top three shot-takers, Olekaibe, Foster and Huddleston, were a combined 7-for-37 from the field.

After the game, Barnes said that the team was tired because the Longhorns were practicing extra time to try and establish the right mentality.

"We have a tired team because of me," Barnes said. "To be honest with you, this is our sixth straight day. Of the last eight or nine years, we've never practiced more than three days in a row without taking time off.

"We're trying to establish something with this group — what we want and what we feel like our program is about," Barnes said. "We always talk about 'everyday guys.' We had a great week of practice, but it's not just practice, it's the mental side of it. That can happen. Again, I'm to blame for it. I even told the coaches last night when we got together as a team, I showed them tape from our last few scrimmages. I told them it doesn't matter who we play, if we continue to make these kinds of mistakes, we're going to beat ourselves. First think you have to learn about winning is that you can't beat yourself. You have to know what goes in to winning and you have to understand what we're trying to get done as group."

Texas (1-0) will next host Coppin State on Monday before leaving the continental U.S. to take part in the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

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