The Season Has Begun

The Texas Longhorns kicked off the 2006-2007 season with an exhibition match against Division II Lenoir-Rhyne on Tuesday night. Texas fans, many dressed in Halloween costumes, got their first look at their young squad in the 98-64 win.

At times, the team struggled to get the handle. Occasionally a pass would miss the mark, occasionally a bad shot was taken, but the potential of this team was evident.

"I think early on they were jumpy, a little uptight, which is no surprise for their first time out," said Texas head coach Rick Barnes. "But as the game went on we got better. For the first time with so many different guys, we had a pretty good night."

The scoring was led by those who will be leading the Longhorns this season, sophomore guard A.J. Abrams and freshman forward Kevin Durant. Abrams had 18 points, while Durant finished with 16.

Durant is listed at 6'9" and is every bit of it. Throughout the night, he used his size and speed to outmatch Lenoir-Rhyne defenders, especially in the second half. With Texas setting the tempo with speedy guards, expect the Horns to run a fast-paced game this season. Durant, however, says the up-tempo college game takes some getting used to.

"It's fast paced. You just try to learn from play to play to play," said Durant. "I was a little nervous today."

Durant struggled in the early goings, shooting 1 of 7 to start the game, but finished 6 of 10, giving him 7 of 17 overall.

"Coach got on me for taking bad shots," said Durant. "Early on, I was taking shots just to take ‘em, but in the second half I did ok."

Abrams played a lot of point last year, but may not be the one setting the tempo this season. Texas ran a two point guard system last season with Abrams and Daniel Gibson (although the college game officially lacks the point and shooting guard definitions, so more accurately it's a two one-guard system, but that just sounds confusing), but the freshman D.J. Augustin brought the ball down the floor most often, with Abrams switching to the two-guard (not to be confused with two one-guards). It appear Augustin will be the main ball distributor for Texas. The true freshman finished with 7 assists in the game and only one turnover.

"I though D.J. was great tonight," said Abrams. "He penetrated the lane, found the open man and played defense well. He had an all around good game."

Freshman Dexter Pittman got in for the first time with 10:30 remaining in the second half. It's been suspected that the 6'10", 315-pound center might receive a redshirt, but Pittman's entrance signaled that no players on the team will be redshirted this season. Pittman had 3 points and 2 rebounds in 6 his minutes of play.

"Dexter really surprised me," said Barnes. "He's a guy we really weren't sure what he would do. I thought he really tried to do all the little things."

Despite the attention usually given to the 5-star recruit, Durant, or the monster in the middle, Pittman, the freshman who turned in perhaps the most impressive performance was forward Damion James. James ate up rebounds all night and had a double-double for his first collegiate game, totaling 14 points and 12 rebounds.

"I was really impressed with Damion," said Barnes. "He might be as durable of a freshman as we've ever had."

Forward Josh Kindred lead Lenoir-Rhyne in scoring, finishing the night with 12 points.

The scoring for Texas began with a three-pointer from Augutin to give the Horns a 3-0 lead, a lead which they would not relinquish the entire night.

Thanks to outside shooting from A.J. Abrams, Texas expended the lead to 20-10 with 11:36 remaining in the first half. It was a comfortable lead, but not as large as expected, given that Texas was playing a Division II opponent, but Lenoir-Rhyne head coach John Lentz said he expected a measure of unfamiliarity by his opponent's players.

"It's their (Texas') first exhibition," said Lentz. "Once you get that under your belt, it makes a big difference."

Texas took a 45-22 lead going into halftime, then the Longhorns outscored Lenoir-Rhyne 53-42 in the final period to cruise to a win.

It wasn't a blowout, but Barnes said he saw good things from his team.

"Once they settled down, defensively, I thought overall they did a pretty good job," said Barnes. "There was a lot more good than probably bad for a first time out."

As an interesting side note from the contest, A.J. Abrams' father, Andy Abrams, officiated the game (with permission from the Longhorns' opponent, of course).

"He's done other conferences, but this was the first time he reffed one of my games," said Abrams. "It was kind of exciting."

Andy Abrams called one foul on his son during the game.

The starting line-up for Texas was comprised of three freshmen and two sophomores: Damion James, Kevin Durant, Connor Atchley, A.J. Abrams and D.J. Augustin.

This is the third consecutive year that Texas has met Lenoir-Rhyne in an exhibition match. The Longhorns have won each meeting. Texas has one more exhibition game on the slate. Xavier University (New Orleans, La.), another Division II opponent, comes to the Erwin Center on Monday, Nov. 6. Tip is set for 7 p.m.

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