AUSTIN (AP) — Game by game, Shaka Smart’s “havoc” style of play is taking shape at Texas.
The latest example: A 72-58 takedown of bigger and taller Vanderbilt on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC challenge, a win sparked by tenacious defense and aggressive play attacking the basket by Longhorns guards.
Kerwin Roach Jr. had 15 points and 11 rebounds and center Prince Ibeh added 13 points and 11 boards for Texas (14-7), which got its fifth win in six games in a mid-season surge in Smart’s first year with the Longhorns.
“Our guys are trying to play the way we’re asking them to play,” Smart said. “It’s a mentality. Some people are born that way, some people it takes a year or two or three years in a program. The key to me, if I could say one word, would be aggressiveness. … We had that edge today.”
Damian Jones scored a career-high 26 points for Vanderbilt (12-9). Matthew Fisher-Davis scored 19 for the Commodores.
Texas had been slugging its way through the rugged Big 12 and entered the rare mid-season non-conference matchup brimming with confidence.
“This was a fun game for us,” Texas guard Isaiah Taylor said “The whole Big 12 prides ourselves as being the best conference in the country.”
Still, Vanderbilt figured to a be physical matchup problem for Texas with 7-footers Jones and Luke Kornet, one of the nation’s top shot blockers, in the frontcourt. But Kornet provided little offensive or defensive punch as Texas built a big lead that all but buried the Commodores early.
Vanderbilt staged a late rally with a flurry of 3-pointers. The Commodores shot 53 percent after halftime but timely turnovers, Texas’ offensive rebounding and free throws sealed the Texas win. Texas also outscored the bigger Commodores 40-18 in the paint.
Texas dismantled Vanderbilt’s size advantage early with full- and mid-court defense that pressured Vanderbilt ball handlers, closed passing lanes and seldom let the Commodores get anything inside. Texas forced Vanderbilt into eight turnovers and a paltry 6-of-21 shooting in building a 31-16 lead by halftime.
Roach, who had a career game earlier in the week against TCU, had back-to-back fast-break dunks. A 3-pointer by Tevin Mack started a 7-0 Texas run that had Vanderbilt on its heels and searching for some way to slow down the Longhorns.
“They are very quick on the perimeter, speed and quickness with their guards. They were very disruptive for us,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said.
The Longhorns led 41-27 before a Vanderbilt burst sparked by a pair of 3-pointers from Fisher-Davis pulled the Commodores within 43-35.
Kornet swished a 3-pointer from the right corner to cut the Texas lead to 58-51 with just under six minutes left, before Texas’ Eric Davis answered with a 3-pointer, then made two free throws to put the Longhorns ahead by 12.
Vanderbilt: Fisher-Davis came in leading leads the SEC in 3-point shooting at 49 percent, but missed his first three attempts and didn’t make Vanderbilt’s first 3-pointer until the second possession of the second half. He finished 5 of 10 from long range.
Texas: Early foul trouble limited Ibeh to just 6 minutes in the first half, but he came back with some big baskets in the second. Ibeh scored six points, including consecutive dunks that put the Longhorns up by 14. Ibeh also kept up his streak from the free throw line. After starting the season just 3 of 21, Ibeh has made 10 of 12 the last two games.
FROM THE LINE
Texas’ aggressive play in driving to the basket created a sizable scoring advantage from the free throw line. Texas made 20 of 26 free throws. Vanderbilt was 5 of 10.
“That was the difference in the game,” Stallings said. “You admire teams that play sure handed, with freedom.
Vanderbilt hosts No. 5 Texas A&M on Feb. 4
Texas plays at No. 17 Baylor on Monday.
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