AUSTIN, Texas -- Coming off a loss to North Carolina that shook up the team, Texas coach Rick Barnes decided to shake up the lineup for the first time this season.
But the replacements were not exactly a roll of the dice. Clint Chapman, Sheldon McClellan and Jaylen Bond had all earned significant minutes off the bench. Plus the opponent, Rice, allowed for a little tinkering. Turned out the experiment worked well enough as Texas (10-3) pulled away from Rice (9-5) midway through the second half for a 73-59 win in front of 14,506 fans at the Frank Erwin Center Saturday.
“I have team chemistry with all my teammates,” guard J'Covan Brown said.
Especially if they give him the ball. That was something his teammates managed to do as Brown had a game-high 23 points. It was his seventh game with 20 or more this season. It was also the seventh time Brown has led Texas in scoring.
“When I'm open, I'm going to take my shots,” Brown said.
Simple enough. But the issue for Texas is that it needs to find someone other than a guard to take a few shots. And that did not happen against Rice and has not been happening all season. The reason is the four post players -- Alexis Wangmene, Jonathan Holmes, Jaylen Bond and Clint Chapman – are struggling when they get the ball in the post. Those four combined for 13 points against Rice.
“They have got to want the ball,” Barnes said. “They have got to talk with their hands and their body like they want to have.”
The same could be said when it comes to rebounding. It was a lack of effort on the glass that pushed Wangmene and Holmes to the bench at the start of the game.
“Production,” said Barnes of the benching. “That's what it gets down to.”
Barnes was not pleased with the effort on the glass against North Carolina, particularly on the defensive end and decided to make the change. It should be noted that UNC is the top team in the country in rebounding differential. So, excuse the obvious here, but to rebound with the Heels is a tall order.
Still Barnes wants more accountability from his interior players. And as he said, more production.
Oddly enough it was Holmes who may have produced the biggest play of the Rice game. The freshman forward snagged an offensive rebound off a missed free throw and produced an and-1 situation to push Texas' lead from two to five, at 51-46. Rice never crawled closer.
“That was a backbreaker,” Rice coach Ben Braun said.
“The biggest play of the game,” Barnes added.
That it was made by Holmes may prove that Texas is not only maturing in tis starting five, but also starting to build some depth and maturity on the bench.
As for who stays on the bench at the beginning of games, Barnes said he doesn't care.
“We could start a different lineup every night,” he said. “It's all about accountability.”
What Texas may have to account for in its Big 12 opener is not having Julien Lewis. Lewis had been a starter, was averring 8.5 points per game and 23 minutes. He slammed his hand in a car door and is out indefinitely.
“Every time we see him we try and hit him in the hand just to keep him smiling,” Brown laughed.
The players are all smiles for now. The non-conference season is over with Texas at least in a position to get to the postseason. But the Big 12 schedule starts this week at Iowa State.