AUSTIN, Texas (AP)—The NCAA could move the 3-point line back even farther if it wanted to. Texas sharpshooter A.J. Abrams will just keep taking them and most likely making them.
The Longhorns’ career leader in 3-pointers had another big night, hitting five on his way to 21 points as No. 7 Texas opened the season with a 68-38 win over Stetson on Friday.
Abrams didn’t look the least bit bothered by the new 3-point distance of 20 feet, 9 inches—a full foot farther back from last season. He even hit two that were easily from NBA range. It was the senior’s 18th game with at least five 3-pointers. He now has 289 in his career.
“It’s just a couple inches back. For the shooters, it’s not a big deal,” said Abrams, who scored the game’s first basket on a 3-pointer from the left wing. “It’s going to weed out some of the big guys from shooting it.”
It wasn’t much of a problem for Texas 6-foot-10 post Connor Atchley, either. Atchley stepped out to hit three 3-pointers in the second half and finished with 14 points.
“It’s all touch,” Atchley said.
Texas returns four starters and nine of its top 10 scorers from last season’s team that won a school record 31 games and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s regional finals. The big loss was last season’s Cousy Award winner, point guard D.J. Augustin, who is now in the NBA.
Augustin’s departure left Texas leaning on the wispy 5-11 Abrams to help play the point at times, and the offense looked a bit rusty when a couple of early fast breaks broke down. Although Abrams has played the point some in the past, he finished with just one of Texas’ nine assists, but didn’t have any turnovers.
There were a few other problems for Texas. The Longhorns had 15 turnovers and went just 6-of-16 from the free throw line in scoring the second-fewest points in a season opener in 11 seasons under coach Rick Barnes.
“Everybody keeps talking about that 3-point line,” Barnes said. “I’m going to put a rule in to move back the free throw line.”
Barnes mostly shrugged off the struggles on offense as first-game issues that can be cleaned up. He was pleased with his defense that held Stetson to 26 percent shooting and just two baskets over the final eight minutes. A.J. Smith scored 12 points for Stetson.
“We didn’t run the way we’ve run in the past. That was the slowest pace we’ve played so far and I can’t really tell you why,” Barnes said. “Defensively, if we can have that kind of effort, it will keep us around in a lot of games.”
Texas opened up a 24-7 lead when Abrams hit a 3-pointer and followed it with a soft floater in the lane before Stetson closed within eight behind an 11-2 run. Abrams ended the run with an off-balance 3-pointer in the last second of the first half that put Texas up 29-18.
Stetson stayed in a zone defense that allowed Abrams to keep firing away.
“If he gets a crack, it was down,” Stetson coach Derek Waugh said. “It’s risky to play zone against a shooter who’s that good, but we had to pick our poison.”
Texas enjoyed a considerable height and strength advantage over the Hatters. The Longhorns have six players 6-7 or taller compared to just three for the Hatters. Texas outrebounded Stetson 37-28 and blocked eight shots.
Still, it was the littlest Longhorn who kept doing the most damage. Abrams hit another 3-pointer from the wing, then stepped inside the line for a soft jumper. Even when Abrams missed a 3-pointer, it rattled around the rim before falling out.
Stetson made four of its first five shots of the second half to stay within striking distance. Atchley and the Texas defense put it away from there. Atchley’s last 3-pointer made it 57-36 with six minutes to play.
Abrams said the defending Big 12 co-champions must get better offensively.
“We have to get better, but I think tonight might be due to it being the first game,” Abrams said. “It’s nothing that can’t be solved.”