Holmes struggles as season draws to close

Evan Berkowitz

It was clear how frustrated senior forward Jonathan Holmes was with himself Saturday after his 2-point performance against No. 12 Iowa State. He stared straight down with his head in his hands as the media began to question him. His answers were short, soft, downtrodden and, at times, incomplete.

“I got to get better and improve and get back in rhythm,” Holmes, who has scored just 12 points in the month of February, said. “Stuff just is not going in right now. Just got to get back to the basics.”

Since going down with a concussion Feb. 4 against Oklahoma State, Holmes hasn’t been himself. In the three games since his return, he’s shot just 21 percent in significant time on the court, attempted just four free throws and has struggled from behind the arc shooting only 34 percent. 

Before his injury, Holmes was averaging 11.5 points per game in 27.1 minutes per game. Since returning, he’s averaged 26.3 minutes per game but has only scored 4 points per game. 

“I just talked to Jon and said, ‘you work too hard to not believe in yourself right now,’” head coach Rick Barnes said. “You hate it for him because he’s worked as hard as anybody we’ve ever had here.”

But the Holmes of late is different from the Holmes who led the Longhorns to win the Wounded Warriors 2k Classic in New York City back in November. That Jonathan Holmes was excited, confident and playing the best basketball of his career.

He scored 19 against Iowa. Then he followed that up with 21 points and 13 rebounds against Cal to take home the tournament MVP award. Holmes thought the team had solved all of their problems.

“Everyone bought in,” Holmes said after the tournament, giddy about the first time Texas won any kind of tournament in his tenure. “Everyone wanted to be a part of the solution. We want to build something special.”

But now, sitting at 6–8 in Big 12 play, Holmes and the Longhorns aren’t looking at a solution but at a new problem. Texas is sitting on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, with few signature wins.

“I know that everybody at this time of the year wants to talk about that,” Barnes said. “It doesn’t matter. People talk. I promise you, there are like 100 teams on the bubble.”

Texas’ top wins are a home win against then-ranked No. 23 West Virginia and a neutral site win against Iowa, who sits in seventh place in the Big Ten. These aren’t leaving many people impressed.

With only four games left, the Longhorns have to take themselves off the bubble and prove they belong in the NCAA Tournament. They will travel to Morgantown, West Virginia, and Lawrence, Kansas, this week to face a pair of top-25 teams. Then they will close out the regular season against No. 19 Baylor and Kansas State at home before the Big 12 tournament. Winning two of those should be enough to get them in.

“We have some chances coming up the next couple of weeks to get some quality wins,” Holmes said.

But in order to do that, they will need their lone scholarship senior to return to form.

“Right now we need some leadership, obviously, and it should come from our older guys.” Barnes said. Your older guys this time of the year have to play.”

This final stretch begins Tuesday, when Texas will face No. 20 West Virginia at 6 p.m. in Morgantown. The game will air on ESPN2.

“We just have to find a way,” sophomore guard Kendal Yancy said. “I personally think we’ll figure it out. We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves. We have a quick turnaround against West Virginia so we can get another road win.”