The regular season officially began with the 8:30 tip, but Texas didn’t really start playing until four minutes into the game. Against Alcorn State, just as they had against their two exhibition opponents, the Longhorns struggled to find their shot, falling behind 9-1 to start the game.
“All nine of those points were off of turnovers. Four minutes in, I didn’t think they (Texas) flinched, they were just turning the ball over,” said Texas head coach Rick Barnes. “Then they started moving the ball, started scrambling better.”
And that’s when the absolute domination began. Forward Damion James started the scoring with a dunk and, as if a switch had suddenly been pulled, Texas took off. The Braves were held scoreless for nine minutes as the Horns went on a 19-0 run.
It was a huge night for forward Kevin Durant, who set a record for most points by a freshman in his debut with 20. But the freshman displayed more than just his scoring ability.
With 9:49 left in the first, Durant spotted Craig Winder open under the basket and sent no look pass to the junior guard to double Alcorn State’s score (18-9).
“He can get it to you a lot of different ways and we’re going to use him a lot of different ways,” said Barnes.
Durant is the highest-rated recruit to come to the 40 Acres, but for Texas’ two exhibition games he played second fiddle to teammates A.J. Abrams and Damion James. But in the first official game of the season, there was no mistaking whom the star of this year’s Longhorn squad will be. Despite his accomplishment, Durant deflected compliments after the game.
“I just wanted to play good defense and get the win,” said Durant.
A Jumane Reed free throw finally ended the run, but the tone for the rest of the game was set.
Because of the size and speed of Texas, there are things this team is able to do that last year’s squad was just not capable of. That also applies to the defensive side of the ball. The offensive explosion the Horns put on display four minutes into the game was impressive, but equally impressive was the way Texas shut down their foe’s scoring. They attacked passing lanes, generating steals and creating turnovers. Texas had 14 steals and 12 blocks during the contest. Alcorn State finished a miserable 15 of 65 shooting (23.1%) on the night.
“Texas was much too strong, much too big for us,” said Alcorn State head coach Samuel West. “I give my guys credit for trying to battle back, but the way the game was called, they allowed us to play physical and we just couldn't match up with their size inside.”
Texas went into halftime leading 48-18 and didn’t slow down in the second.
Durant was 3 of 6 behind the three-point line on the night and hit two of them from NBA range in the early in the second half, producing cheers from the fans in attendance (official for the game: 4,132).
Once again all of the Longhorns got in on the action. Five Texas players finished in double digits on scoring (Durant – 20, James – 13, Abrams – 13, Matt Hill – 11, Winder – 10).
With 12:30 remaining in the game, a large number of fans started to gather around the luxury boxes in the Erwin Center to watch to final field goal (or field goals, as it were) in the Rutgers-Lousiville football games. A roar erupted as the kick went through and Texas fans throughout the arena celebrated the football team’s inevitable move upward in the BCS.
“I asked one of the coaches what was going on and he told me Rutgers beat Louisville,” said Durant. “That’s big for the football team.”
Oh, hey, right. A basketball game is going on. But that’s the duality of playing for Texas, where football is king. However, Durant is hoping to add another sport to the culture of the school.
“My intentions are to bring it to a basketball school,” said Durant.
Good luck with that, Kevin. Texas will play Chicago State (1-0) in the second round of the tournament Friday night.