AUSTIN, Texas (AP)—Texas coach Rick Barnes didn’t want his team to even think about basketball over their short holiday break.
It was evident early in Tuesday night’s game against Gardner-Webb that the second-ranked Longhorns took the advice.
Texas started sluggishly but was able to pull away for a 95-63 victory.
“We just had way too many turnovers, and I think we turned ourselves over,” Barnes said. “Some of our turnovers were just from being careless.”
Despite the turnovers and ragged play, Texas never lost control behind a season-high 15 points from Jai Lucas. Damion James had 14 points and 13 rebounds — his 43rd career double-double—and Dexter Pittman added 15 points and nine rebounds for the Longhorns (12-0).
“That’s what separates them from Duke and North Carolina because the points can come from a lot of different ways,” Gardner-Webb coach Rick Scruggs said. “It makes them a lot harder to play.”
Lucas, in his third game back after transferring from Florida in between semesters last season, showed his offensive prowess for the first time in a Texas uniform, hitting all five of his shots behind the 3-point line.
In his first two games back, Lucas played a limited role against No. 9 North Carolina and No. 11 Michigan State. He averaged 9 minutes of playing time and recorded just five points against the Spartans. On Tuesday, Lucas was a bit more offensive.
“They just told me to take open shots and that there’s no limitations on anything,” Lucas said. “I felt the way that they were guarding the pick-and-roll and helping inside with Dexter, that there were a lot of open shots. And I hit them.”
Lucas will become a bigger part of Texas’ offense as the Longhorns get closer to Big 12 conference play.
“Maybe the fact that he had to break in with those difficult games against North Carolina and Michigan State, it maybe helped him,” Barnes said. “He’s starting to understand it more, and the more he plays the more he’ll settle in.”
Lucas helped the Longhorns slowly start to pull away in the first half. With just over 13 minutes remaining, he hit two 3-pointers from the wing to give Texas a 20-7 lead. James, who leads Texas in scoring (17.0) and rebounding (10.8), scored his first basket on a jumper from the free-throw line to give the Longhorns a 28-15 lead with under 10 minutes left in the half.
Soon after, Texas jumped into a full-court press and forced two quick turnovers. Dogus Balbay scored on an easy layup, which was followed by a steal at midcourt and a layup by James. Justin Mason ignited a crowd of 9,551 when he took a pass from Lucas and threw down a one-handed dunk to put the Longhorns ahead 43-19.
Gary Johnson, who finished with 11 points, scored eight of Texas’ final 10 points in the last 3 minutes of the first half.
“In the first half we were sloppy on the offensive end, but the effort was there,” Mason said. “And that’s what we need to bring every night.”
Finishing the first half on a 29-13 run, Pittman scored seven points in the first 3 minutes of the second half as Texas pulled away from a 55-28 halftime lead.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs (3-8) were only able to get within 23 points in the second half as C.J. Hailey was 5 of 5 on 3-pointers and scored 20 points. Texas forced 27 turnovers and finished with a season-high 19 steals.
Texas committed 19 turnovers—six in the first 4 minutes of the game.
Lucas admitted he still needs to take a few more steps forward before getting back to his old self.
“It will take a few more games,” Lucas said. “I’m not where I need to be yet.”