AUSTIN, Texas -- Freshman guard Isaiah Taylor scored 17 points and Texas rallied from nine points down in the second half to beat Mercer 76-73 Friday night in the season opener for both teams.
Texas trailed 62-53 with just under 10 minutes to play. Demarcus Holland's dunk with 5 seconds left gave Texas a vital 3-point cushion and Connor Lammert blocked Jake Gollon's 3-point attempt to tie at the buzzer.
Texas had its first losing season since 1997-98 last season. That and disappointing results in recent NCAA tournaments has led to speculation that coach Rick Barnes may be fighting to keep this job this season, which will be his first under new athletic director Steve Patterson, whose contract is expected to be approved Monday by school regents.
The Longhorns lost their four top scorers from last season as two players transferred and two more left for the NBA or pro ball in Greece. The top returning scorer is Felix, who averaged 6.8 points last season but hardly practiced in the preseason because of hip surgery.
Mercer returned four starters from a team that won a share of the Atlantic Sun regular season championship last season. The Bears start five seniors and had a chance to take down an inexperienced Big 12 opponent searching for confidence behind a rebuilt roster.
Texas got off to a torrid start from 3-point range, making six of its first seven attempts. Felix opened the game with a 3-pointer two more by Damarcus Croaker helped the Longhorns open up a 36-25 lead late in the first half.
Mercer recovered when Hall made a 3-pointer and was fouled. He made the free throw and followed it with another 3-pointer. Mercer outscored Texas 13-4 over the final 3:41 to pull within 39-36 by halftime.
The Bears kept firing away over Texas' zone in the second. A baseline dunk by Ike Nwamu and another 3-pointer by Hall tied it at 44-44. Jibri Bryan made consecutive 3-pointers in an 11-1 Bears run that opened up a 62-53 Mercer lead with 9:46 to play.
After calling timeout to switch out of its zone defense, Texas rallied with a 10-0 run and briefly retook the lead on Holland's short jumper. The Longhorns seized all momentum when Bears' center Daniel Coursey was whistled for a flagrant foul on Cameron Ridley.
Ridley made one of two free throws and given the ball again, Felix's fall-away jumper put Texas ahead 66-64. Texas reeled off two more quick baskets as the Longhorns pushed the lead to seven. Mercer cut it to 71-69 on Gollon's 3-pointer before Texas' Jonathan Holmes answered with a 3-pointer for the Longhorns with 1:22 to play.
Coursey's dunk with 10.3 seconds left got Mercer within 74-73, but Texas quickly worked the ball through the Bears' pressure defense and Holland was left all alone for an easy dunk.