Andrew Jones, missing from the Texas lineup since he was diagnosed with leukemia in January, made his long-anticipated return on Tuesday night.
Jones, a junior guard, received a standing ovation when he entered the game in the second half. He produced a point, a rebound, a steal and an assist in nine minutes as the Longhorns defeated Eastern Illinois 71-59 in the season opener.
“It’s great to see Andrew out on the court,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “I loved the way the crowd and everyone in the building reacted to him going in the game.”
How much Jones gets to play this season is uncertain. Jones, who was not made available to reporters on Tuesday, will leave the team temporarily on Dec. 10 to undergo another round of chemotherapy. For now, he just wants to be one of the guys.
“He wants to be treated like he’s one of us,” teammate Matt Coleman said. “It felt good having him out there. It’s good to see the fans really care about him.”
Coleman had 13 points and seven assists for the Longhorns, while Jaxson Hayes, a 6-foot-11 freshman, scored 12.
Rade Kukobat led Eastern Illinois with 12 points and Mack Smith scored 11.
Eastern Illinois committed 19 turnovers, several induced by the Longhorns’ full-court pressure defense, a strategy Smart employed more when he was at Virginia Commonwealth than during the last three seasons at Texas.
Eastern Illinois coach Jay Spoonhour said that defensive style is difficult to face early in the season when teams are still installing offensive tactics.
“We worked on press offense, believe it or not,” Spoonhour said. “What they are doing is really, really hard to play against. After we settled down, we did fine.”
Eastern Illinois: The Panthers, picked to finish seventh in the 12-team Ohio Valley Conference by the league’s coaches and sports information directors, need time to coalesce. They have four new starters, all junior college transfers. The 6-foot-9 Kukobat is one of them. Another, 6-foot-5 forward JaQualis Matlock, showed some promise in the first half, scoring eight points while working inside against the taller Longhorns. He missed with his only shot attempt in the second half.
Texas: The Longhorns won’t provide a full glimpse of themselves until they face Arkansas on Friday. Senior guard Kerwin Roach II missed the opener while serving a one-game suspension for a violation of unspecified team rules several months ago. Roach averaged 12.3 points a game last season, fourth best on the team, while leading the Longhorns with 47 steals. The Longhorns hit 32 percent of their 3-pointers against Eastern Illinois, the same accuracy that ranked last in the Big 12 last season.
Texas struggled for most of the first half but made a 15-0 push toward the end to take a 10-point lead at the break.
“I think they got real serious about playing,” Spoonhour said.
Elijah Mitrou-Long had a hand in the first 10 of those points, with two driving layups, a 3-point basket, and an assist. Mitrou-Long, a guard averaged 15 points a game at Mount St. Mary’s in 2016-17 before transferring to Texas and sitting out last season.
None. The Longhorns, 19-15 last season, received only five votes in The Associated Press preseason 25 poll, landing them in 45th place.
Eastern Illinois guard Terrell Lewis is back for his second senior season after receiving a medical redshirt from the NCAA. He appeared in eight games last season before suffering a season-ending foot injury. He missed the game Tuesday with another injury but should be back soon.
Texas reserve forward Royce Hamm missed the game with a right knee injury, but he is expected back soon.
Eastern Illinois: The Panthers are at IUPUI on Saturday. Eastern Illinois defeated IUPUI 80-79 last season at home in Charleston, Ill. Eastern’s Terrell Lewis, now a senior, made two free throws with six seconds left.
Texas: The Longhorns face Arkansas on Friday in the Armed Forces Classic at Fort Bliss in El Paso. The Longhorns last played the Razorbacks in December, 2016, with Arkansas winning 77-74 in Houston.
© 2018 The Canadian Press