Kerwin Roach II felt the shot attempts were good. The dribble-drive kick outs to the open man, the open 3-point shots outside the arc, the runners into the lane.
They just didn’t execute.
It’s a story that has felt familiar for Texas at multiple points this season. Late game situations, and not enough big-time plays in the closing minutes. With three wins in their last four games, there was a feeling that the Longhorns had ditched it.
But Texas couldn’t collect the points it needed in the second half against Kansas State, failing to score a point in the game’s final two minutes. That inability to close proved to be the difference Tuesday night, as the Longhorns fell to the Wildcats, 71-64.
“They definitely made us a shooting team, but we just didn’t knock down our shots,” Roach said. “Especially for myself, I didn’t make a three. We can knock down shots, we just didn’t today.”
Texas’ game plan was apparent from the start: pound the ball inside. The Longhorn guards attacked the rim with aggression and made sure to work the ball to forwards Jericho Sims, Dylan Osetkowski and center Jaxson Hayes down low.
As a result, the Longhorns scored 24 of their 39 first half points inside the paint and scored seven more points at the free throw line. That allowed Texas to take a 39-35 lead into the half.
“I thought our guys came out tonight really focused on doing what we needed to do on the offensive end to attack,” head coach Shaka Smart said.
But it was Kansas State’s switch to a zone defense that stifled the Longhorn offense in the second half — something it had done one other time this season. And it worked against a Texas offense that struggled to shoot the ball from outside. Unable to move the ball into the paint, Kansas State quickly went on a 9-0 run that allowed the Wildcats to regain control of the game.
And while the Longhorns were able to finally decipher Kansas State’s defense, the Wildcats’ duo of Barry Brown, Jr. and Xavier Sneed sparked them into a rhythm on offense. The duo combined for 32 points and 13 boards and pushed Kansas State to hold onto the lead for the final 15 minutes of the game.
“I thought Xavier really rebounded,” Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber said. “Barry made a nice pull up in both halves. We said, ‘Just read what they give you,’ and I thought we did a great job with that.”
Kansas State did what the Longhorns couldn’t. When the Wildcats needed an offensive rebound to kill time off the clock, they found one. When they needed to convert free throws late, they did.
The Longhorns will now be forced to regroup once more. This loss, however, will sting for the Texas players. They felt a win against the Big 12 leader was in their grasps. Smart even told his players in the first half that they were the better team.
“Coming off of two good games and knowing we played well, we just didn’t do enough,” guard Matt Coleman III said. “Didn’t get one more stop, one more possession for ourselves. Today was a detail game, and they capitalized off our missed details.”
With Oklahoma State, a team they lost to previously this season, coming to Austin on Saturday, the Longhorns will have no time to dwell on it. The message remains to move onto the next opponent.