The Longhorns (8-5) fell behind by as many as six points in the first half, and actually trailed 33-32 with 13:50 remaining in the game. But Texas shook off the slow start and closed the game on a 25-8 run, holding Rice (3-9) without a field goal from the 8:50 mark to the 1:36 point.
"From a coaching staff standpoint, this is what we expected," said Texas coach Rick Barnes. "I don’t think this is what the players expected. Defense helped us in the last 10 minutes of the game. That puts a lot of pressure on them obviously. Javan [Felix] broke the ball loose twice when he really got underneath his man. Sheldon [McClellan] had good numbers for the night."
The more physical Longhorns shot just 36.7 percent for the game, including a wretched 32 percent in the second half as Texas pulled away. Texas doubled up Rice in rebounds, pulling down 46 to Rice's 23, and held a 13-point advantage in second chance points (16-3) and a 10-point lead in points in the paint (22-12). Texas also dominated in getting to the free throw stripe, attempting 29 freebies to Rice's six, though the Longhorns made only 18 of those shots (62.1 percent).
For its part, Rice shot 31.9 percent while making 6-of-22 shots in the second half (27.3 percent). The Owls were tied with Texas 26-all at halftime, thanks to a 5-for-13 opening half from behind the arc (38.5 percent). The Owls attempted just three three-pointers in the game's final 9:25, missing them all.
"It’s been a main focus of ours to lockdown defensively," said Texas point guard Javan Felix. "That’s what we preach everyday: defense, blocking out, and finishing possessions."
Sheldon McClellan led all players in points (14) and rebounds (9).
"The coaches wanted me to be aggressive on both ends, not just scoring, but also rebounding," McClellan said. "I thought I did a better job focusing on that side of the ball today."
Fellow wing Julien Lewis added 12 points. Jonathan Holmes continued his strong run on the glass with eight points and eight rebounds despite playing just 13 minutes with foul trouble. And while Felix had his struggles shooting the ball (he was 1-for-6), he scored seven points, dished out seven assists and grabbed six boards, while committing just two turnovers.
Also on the good news front for the Longhorns: forward Jaylen Bond logged 12 minutes in his first game back from an ankle injury, with Bond playing his usual overactive self. Bond snagged six rebounds (three offensive) in those 12 minutes, while also making a steal and scoring three points. In Bond's first game back, here's how the post minutes broke down: Connor Lammert (21 off the bench), Cameron Ridley (18, starter), Holmes (13, starter), Bond (12, bench), Ibeh (9, bench).
"He brings energy," Barnes said. "We took him out at the end because he broke down defensively, but he has been out for a month. His intensity and rebounding is going to help us out a lot."
Austin Ramljak tied McClellan with 14 points, hitting 4-of-7 three-pointers for the Owls off the bench. Tamir Jackson scored 12 points, but took 17 shots to get there, shooting 5-of-17.
Texas now has a week to prepare to face Baylor in the Longhorns' Big 12 opener. That game, only Texas's second "true" road game, will be played at 1 p.m. Saturday in Waco.