From the start, Texas was able to torture Stephen F. Austin's normally salty defense with its speed. Demarcus Holland, who entered the game with a career-high of 13 points, attacked the rim relentlessly, almost reaching that high in one half. He scored 11 of Texas's 31 first-half points, allowing the Longhorns to stay in the game despite the Lumberjacks making eight of their first 13 three-pointers.
It was that aggressiveness off the bounce — Holland added another 10 in the second half for a new career high of 21 points — that helped the Longhorns overcome a sloppy night offensively.
"It was just a normal game," Holland said. "I was just trying to go out and win with my team. I never thought about scoring 20 points or anything like that."
Even when the shot didn't fall, the Stephen F. Austin defense often wasn't in place to stop a backside rebounder from sneaking in to grab an offensive board. Texas had 12 of the available 28 rebounds on that side of the floor, an outstanding offensive rebounding rate of 42.9 percent that led to 15 second-chance points.
Texas needed them. The Lumberjacks hadn't allowed any opponents to score 70-or-more points in 66 consecutive games, with that streak formed largely by pressuring the ball, eliminating easy passes and forcing opponents into turnovers. Texas had 16 turnovers to go with just five assists on Friday night.
And yet, there were the Longhorns, for the third straight game, scrapping back from a second-half deficit. Stephen F. Austin led by four at the under-eight timeout, 54-50, and the game was tied at 60 with less than three minutes remaining.
A Jonathan Holmes tip dunk of a missed jumper put Texas up 62-60, and the Longhorns ended the game on a 12-2 run. Isaiah Taylor, who scored eight of his 10 points in the game's final eight minutes, darted in for a layup and a four-point lead. After Connor Lammert grabbed a a rebound and was fouled, he made both free throws. Two free throws followed from the Lumberjacks before Taylor once more sped past his man for a layup and a six-point lead.
"Coach Barnes trusts me as a point guard and I felt like he did at the end of the game, especially putting the ball in my hands," Taylor said. "I believe I can make it happen as being one of the leaders on this team."
Javan Felix and Holmes closed out the game by knocking in four straight free throws to close it out.
"They've shown grit," said Texas coach Rick Barnes afterward.
Holland shot 9-for-13, making layups, floaters, a couple of jumpers and getting to the free throw line. He added five rebounds and two steals.
"Demarcus Holland has been the most valuable player for us through the first three games," Barnes said. "He keeps putting up stats and also does all the little things. He plays hard and affects everything defensively."
Felix, who struggled with his shot in the first two games, found more of a rhythm. He made 5-of-8 shots, including 1-of-2 from three, and made 4-of-5 free throws for a 15-point night. Lammert had 12 points and eight rebounds, while Holmes had 11 points and eight boards.
After making 37.9 percent of its attempts in the first half, Texas shot a blistering 68.2 percent in the second to help put things away. The Lumberjacks went the opposite way with their three-point shooting, making 8 of their first 13 threes, then hitting just 3-of-11 afterward.
Deshaunt Walker was the main source of Longhorn pain, making six three-pointers and scoring 24 points off the bench. He also had three assists and two steals. Desmond Haymon had 15 points and eight rebounds.
"There's good things consistently and then there's bad things we've done consistently," said Lammert of the first three games. "We came out this game on fire and defended well. We didn't do that the last couple games. I think what we've done well the last few games is finish well with that lineup on the court. The last four minutes we were really able to hold onto the ball and make free throws and execute and get stops and rebounds. So, I think that's what we've done well better than anything."
Stephen F. Austin suffered its first loss of the season, falling to 2-1. Texas is now 3-0, and will host Houston Baptist on Monday. The Longhorns will then have a week off before heading to Kansas City, Mo. for the CBE Hall of Fame Championship Classic. Texas will play BYU in that semifinal.