AUSTIN, Texas — Texas spent the past several weeks alternating between victory and defeat, not necessarily a desirable pattern for a team angling for a return to the NCAA Tournament after missing it last season for just the second time since 1999.
“We talked a lot about that,” coach Shaka Smart said. “Our guys have done a nice job responding when we’ve had a tough game. But at the same time, when you win, you don’t want to be any less motivated.”
The Longhorns broke form on Saturday. Freshman Mohamed Bamba scored a season-best 25 points to go with 15 rebounds and four blocks and Texas defeated Mississippi 85-72 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Texas (14-7) has consecutive victories for the first time since winning three straight from Dec. 16-22.
“This is a very talented team,” Bamba said “We see no reason why we can’t keep winning.”
The 6-foot-11 Bamba converted 6 of 8 from the field and 12 of 13 free throws. Dylan Osetkowski added 17 points and seven rebounds for Texas, Kerwin Roach II scored 16, and Jase Febres 12, converting 4 of 8 from 3-point range.
Deandre Burnett led Ole Miss (11-10) with 21 points, and Dominik Olejniczak scored a season-high 16, including 14 in the first half.
Texas fashioned a 13-3 push late in the first half to take 45-36 at the break. Osetkowski scored eight points during that stretch, the last of them with a dunk after making a steal while the Longhorns pressed full court. Smart, while coaching a VCU, built his reputation with that type of defense. But he is sometimes reluctant to use the full-court press at Texas, saying that the high-level high school players he recruits are not always receptive to the effort required.
Smart turned the Longhorns loose early in the first half against the Rebels because he did not think they were playing aggressively enough.
“It’s a way to be aggressive,” Smart said. “It forced a few turnovers (the Rebels had 10 in the game) but more importantly it disrupted some of their offensive flow.”
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy suggested that the Rebels should have been more competitive since they attempted 36 shots inside the foul lane, hit 82.4 percent of their free throws and were only outrebounded by only one.
“The problem,” Kennedy said, “is we missed 11 layups.”
Mississippi: The Rebels fell to 0-6 in road games this season. They are 10-3 at home, with victories over Florida and Alabama — both likely NCAA Tournament teams. Mississippi also beat South Carolina, which advanced to the 2017 Final Four.
“I didn’t like our approach (Saturday),” Kennedy said. “It’s almost as if we play far too casual on the road. It’s happened to us in our last two SEC outings. Maybe at home you can get away with some of that stuff.”
Texas: Roach, a junior, has done his best to compensate for the loss of Andrew Jones, who was the team’s second leading scorer before being diagnosed with leukemia, which the team announced in early January. Roach has scored 20 against Texas Tech on Jan. 17 and a career-best tying 22 against Iowa State on Monday before chipping in those 16 — and five assists — against Mississippi.
Smart said Mississippi brought a high level of physicality, especially against the slender Bamba.
“We needed to stand up to that,” Smart said. “Our guys did a nice job.”
Bamba responded by shoving a Mississippi player in the first half, receiving a Flagrant-1 foul for his effort.
“I thought the intentional foul was very necessary,” Bamba said.
NOT TRUE TO FORM
Mississippi began the day with a 10-2 this season when shooting 30-plus percent from 3-point range. The Rebels hit 8 of 21 (38.1 percent) against Texas.
Mississippi hosts Auburn on Tuesday. Auburn, ranked No. 22 at the time, beat Mississippi 85-70 on Jan. 9.
Texas is at Texas Tech on Wednesday. The Longhorns defeated the then-No. 8 Red Raiders 67-58 on Jan. 17 for their 22nd straight win over Tech in Austin.