WACO — Texas traveled across I-35 to Waco with optimistic March Madness hopes, but arrived with a shorthanded roster. For the second consecutive game, shooting guard Kerwin Roach II sat out with a suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Power forward Dylan Osetkowski joined Roach on the inactive list, missing the game with flu-like symptoms.
The Longhorns were bereft of all senior leadership, relying on the young guns to catapult the team back into tournament contention.
Texas trotted out a new-look starting five, featuring combo guard Courtney Ramey in Roach’s place and stretch four Kamaka Hepa in Osetkowski’s position. The underutilized lineup paid dividends at first, but the Longhorns could not sustain success, falling 84-83 in overtime to Baylor.
Ramey’s omnipresence on both ends in the first 20 minutes sparked the Longhorns to a 40-29 halftime lead. The freshman scored 17 points, but 15 of those were accumulated in the first half. Ramey’s contributions as a floor general drove Texas’ offense to a new level as well. He dished a career-high 10 assists, consistently setting up open looks for teammates including Elijah Mitrou-Long and Jericho Sims.
“My teammates did a great job putting me in situations where I could attack and be myself,” Ramey said. “Eli coming off the bench to give us a spark got me going, Kamaka playing more minutes than he normally has and Jericho (Sims) getting rebounds and dunks really got me going.”
In the second half, Ramey was less visible on the stat sheet. He only recorded two points on 1-of-4 shooting and Texas’ offense regressed, suffering scoring droughts which paved way for Baylor’s comeback.
“I thought he did a good job attacking in the first half — he made a couple really, really tough shots,” Smart said. “When Matt (Coleman III) was out, that was when he was most assertive. Some of our guys played really heavy minutes. That might have played a bit of a role as the game went on.”
Hepa, a healthy scratch in more than half of Texas’ conference games, was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time of his collegiate career. The Alaska native scored 11 points and sunk three 3-pointers, providing valuable spacing around the exterior in Texas’ four-out, one-in offense. Hepa also grabbed four boards and held firm as a rim protector on the defensive end, where he elevated for a career-best two blocks.
“He had great poise,” Smart said. “He didn’t get rattled. I told him today, ‘You’re gonna play a lot, so just go out there and attack.’ He’s not yet at the point confidence-wise where we want him to be and (we) know he will be, but I thought tonight he didn’t overthink things and just went out and played.”
In the second half, Baylor collapsed the Longhorns’ 19-point lead to tie the game with under three minutes left. When Texas was in desperate need for a clutch bucket, Hepa delivered. The freshman situated himself on the left wing and swished an open three to regain a 67-64 edge. Although Baylor eventually forced overtime, Hepa struck again on an uncontested look beyond the arc with 1:45 left in the extra period to provide the Longhorns a six-point advantage before the Bears usurped the lead.
Unfortunately for Texas, the insertion of Ramey and Hepa into the starting lineup didn’t end in victory. Osetkowski will likely return from illness soon, but the Longhorns will go back to the drawing board with lineups going forward as the team continues to play without Roach.