DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Sir’Jabari Rice, reflecting on the career-high seven 3-pointers he made for Texas, was asked by a reporter when he last felt that confident.
“I don’t necessarily feel hot, because I missed three,” Rice said with a straight face as teammate Marcus Carr doubled over in laughter next to him at the podium. “But I’m just trying to keep it going.”
The No. 2 seed Longhorns are off to a strong start.
Rice scored 23 points and Texas shut down sharpshooting Colgate for an 81-61 victory in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night.
Carr finished with 17 points and Dylan Disu had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Longhorns (17-8), who shot 13 for 23 from 3-point range to beat the Raiders at their own game. Texas will play 10th-seeded Penn State in the second round on Saturday in the Midwest Region.
“We’re fortunate to get a real game the first game of the tournament. Colgate is an elite, legit team. We won by 20, but it felt like we really won by five or seven,” said Timmy Allen, who returned from a leg injury that kept him out of the Big 12 Tournament.
In another inspired performance under interim coach Rodney Terry, his first NCAA Tournament win as a head coach, Rice and the Longhorns picked the perfect time to get hot on the perimeter against the nation’s leading outside shooting team. They matched their season best for 3-pointers made.
“I just feel every single guy that walked on the court today had a game plan,” Carr said. “The coaches had us prepared, and we executed.”
The Raiders (26-9) went just 3 for 15 from deep against a relentless and long-armed Longhorns defense. Colgate shot better than 40% before the tournament. The leading individual 3-point shooter in the country, Oliver Lynch-Daniels, went 1 for 4. He was a 50% shooter from long range this season.
“They could beat us with 3s, but they were going to have a hard time beating us with 2s,” Terry said.
Keegan Records and Ryan Moffatt each scored 13 points for the 15th-seeded Raiders, who have not won an NCAA Tournament game in six appearances. Tucker Richardson, the Patriot League Player of the Year, had nine points on 4-for-11 shooting.
“Especially those guards when they’ve got Rice in there as a third guard, they’re just really quick,” Richardson said. “It’s kind of hard for us to get open.”
With most of the fans in Wells Fargo Arena rooting for the upset, the Longhorns adjusted to Colgate’s second-half zone defense and never let the lead get smaller than seven points.
About an hour before Texas took the court, No. 2 seed Arizona was ousted by Princeton in the West Region. The Tigers became the 11th team seeded 15th to win a first-round game in 149 tries and the third in three years.
The Longhorns played hard enough — and shot well enough — to make sure they didn’t land on that list.
After driving hard toward the block, Carr kicked the ball back out to the top of the key to set up Rice’s fourth 3-pointer for a 29-17 lead. As the calm and deliberate Rice flashed a sheepish smile, Carr gave him an exaggerated hand slap as he jumped up and down on the retreat for defense.
Rice, the lanky super sub and graduate transfer from New Mexico State who is aiming to play in the Final Four in his native Houston, went 8 for 14 from the field.
“He’s as good of an overall basketball player as I’ve seen all year — his intelligence, his IQ, his poise, his defense, his recognition of his teammates, but his ability to step up,” Colgate coach Matt Langel said.
The Longhorns have come a long way since coach Chris Beard was arrested on a later-dropped domestic violence charge and fired soon after that.
They hit the NCAA Tournament in stride under Terry’s even-keeled guidance with two decisive wins over Kansas, the regular-season Big 12 champion and No. 1 seed in the West Region, that included the conference championship.
These Longhorns have a strong bond that has carried them to the verge of a trip to the tournament’s second weekend for the first time since 2008. The last Final Four for Texas was in 2003, when Terry was an assistant under coach Rick Barnes.
“I think we prepare really well, better than a lot of teams in the country,” Rice said. “I think we’re really locked into the details and locked into the things that we have to do to win.”