Unlikely hero Jericho Sims saves Texas in OT win over Xavier

Robert Larkin

While a large crowd of reporters gathered around Jericho Sims, Royce Hamm, Jr. and Dylan Osetkowski snickered in the locker next to him. For a player who never speaks up and never wants the world’s attention, the irony of people barraging Sims with questions wasn’t lost on his teammates.

Given his shy nature, is talking to a few reporters the worst thing Sims has to do?

“Nah,” Sims said with a laugh and a shrug.

Whether he likes it or not, the spotlight was deserved for the sophomore forward. He not only put together an impressive stat line of 11 points and seven rebounds in one of his most complete performances of the year, but also made the game’s biggest play during the Longhorns’ 78-76 victory over Xavier.

Xavier’s Quentin Goodin stood at the free throw line with the game team tied at 70-70 and two seconds left. A chance to win the game was on the table. Although Goodin’s free throw flared off the rim to the right, Sims let his man behind him grab the offensive rebound.

Zach Hankins got the ball and quickly put up a layup, expecting to play hero. But Sims redeemed his own mistake, extending all of his 6 foot 9 inch frame to pin the ball against the backboard and send the game into overtime, extending the Longhorns’ postseason.

“It was a close one, and it’s a good thing I got up and blocked that,” Sims said. “I would definitely put that at the top (of the biggest blocks I’ve ever made at Texas).”

In overtime, Sims stepped up even more. His athleticism and active approach on the boards allowed him to grab two big offensive rebounds which led to points and burned the clock. He went to the line four times in the period and made each of them that proved to be difference makers in a two-point game.

“Stone cold-killer, that’s who he is,” Osetkowski said. “I was telling (associate coach Darrin Horn) on the bench, he’s gonna get these. He did, he knocked them in.”

The Minneapolis native played with the same looseness and energy throughout the entire game. He was pivotal in the Longhorns’ rebounding efforts against a big Xavier lineup that employs three forwards in its starting five. Time and time again, he was relentless in tipping the ball back out to open teammates and holding his own inside the post on defense. His activeness in rolling toward the rim on offense gave him a few easy dunks.

It’s been a tumultuous season for Sims, who entering the year was projected to be one of the nation’s most improved players. Less than a week ago, he wasn’t even in the Longhorns’ starting lineup. An injury to star freshman Jaxson Hayes during the Big 12 Tournament changed that, and the sophomore forward received the starting nod on Sunday.

As the Longhorns advance to the quarterfinals of the NIT on Wednesday, they’ll need Sims’ continued presence on both ends of the floor.

“Jericho was great,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “The way we want him to play is with a relentless approach to him and keeping those balls alive were huge. This has obviously been a tough year for him with a lot of challenges, but he’s getting better and better the last two games.”

Sims will continue to keep to himself and let his actions do the talking. That’s his nature and it really hasn’t changed at Texas since he’s been here. But should the Longhorns continue their march toward Madison Square Garden, they’ll need more of the Jericho who showed up on Sunday.