"This group maybe gets more open looks than any team we've ever coached, because of what we're trying to get done on offense with the screening and cutting," said Texas coach Rick Barnes. "It's a group that the one thing we've talked about since day one is putting the ball inside, and that's how we want to play."
But so many of those open looks didn't fall, with Texas shooting just 39.5 percent from the field and 25 percent from the three-point line. The Longhorns countered that by making repeated trips to the free throw line. Texas took just 43 shots for the game, but attempted 38 free throws, hitting 28 for a 73.7 percent clip from the charity stripe. The Bearkats attempted just 11 free throws, making five.
"As far as the free throws, I think our conference is a lot different than y'all's," said Sam Houston State coach Jason Hooten. "I think if I get up here and say something and I'm in the Big 12, I'm going to get fined. I'm not going to get fined in the Southland.
"I don't know what to say. I thought a lot of those fouls were, I mean, come on, they're a lot bigger and stronger and more physical than we are, and we get called for playing hard and playing physical. I'm pretty sure they're going to see a whole lot more physical teams the rest of the year than Sam Houston State. That's about all I'm going to say about the free throws."
But while the free throw line was a major factor in the game's outcome, perhaps the biggest was the Bearkats' inability to score. Sam Houston State scored just 18 points in the first half, and topped that by just one point by scoring 19 in the second half. For the game, the Bearkats shot 21 percent from the field, 21.4 percent from three and 45.5 percent from the free throw line. After Sam Houston State led the rebounding battle in the first half, Texas bounced back to finish with 47 boards to the Bearkats' 32.
"They played great defense," Hooten said. "A lot of that had to do with our poor offensive performance. I don't want to take anything away from Texas or Coach Barnes. He does a great job. He's a tremendous performance. But I'm just disappointed in our team."
The leading scorer for the Longhorns was again Sheldon McClellan, coming off the bench to score 16 points the hard way. He was just 4-of-13 from the field, but was 6-of-6 from the free throw line and grabbed eight boards. After the game, he was candid about starting the game off the court.
"Coach just wanted me to play harder in practice," McClellan said. "The other guys have been doing a good job of playing hard and they are going to play first. I'm just playing my roll and trying to help the team win. It doesn't really matter to me who starts or if I come off of the bench."
"We think Sheldon can be a very special player," added Barnes. "He is a prolific scorer in so many different ways if he wants to. He can score behind the ark, he can put it on the floor, and he's good playing without the ball, but the biggest thing we're after him about is defense. We need him to be effective in terms of standing in front of the ball."
Jonathan Holmes also had eight rebounds, and he scored 11 points and added two blocks and two steals. Julien Lewis was the only other Longhorn in double figures with 10. Texas tried some interesting lineups, starting DeMarcus Holland for the first time this season and playing him 26 minutes. Ioannis Papapetrou, often a starter and a big part of the Texas gameplan, was the ninth man off the bench and played 18 minutes, spending some of those playing both the four and the five.
Like with Texas, Sam Houston State's leading scorer came off the bench, with the Bearkat starters combining to shoot 3-for-18 from the field while not shooting a free throw between them. Paul Baxter scored 12 points in 19 minutes off the pine.
"I don't think we will have to win ugly," McClellan said. "We will just have to value the ball better. We still had 19 turnovers and that is too many. We are just going to have to learn to value the ball and we will be all right."
Texas (4-2) has now won two straight — both by double-digits — since dropping its first two games at the Maui Invitational. The Longhorns will next take on UT Arlington at 3 p.m. CT Saturday at the Frank Erwin Center.