One year ago today, the Longhorns were upset at home against Radford in one of the more disappointing games of the season. On Saturday, Texas almost suffered a similarly shocking upset to the McNeese State Cowboys.
Following a trip to New York City, where the team lost the first game of its season to Georgetown and rebounded with a decisive win over Cal, the Longhorns had the chance to take out some frustration. Texas was favored by nearly 30 points before the game, and was expected to cruise past the struggling mid-major team.
In a game where neither team could pull away from the other, the Longhorns relied heavily on three-point shots, with guards redshirt sophomore Andrew Jones and junior Jase Febres attempting a combined 20 attempts. The problem is that the duo only managed to convert on five of those shots.
“Jase Febres and Andrew Jones are very good basketball players and very good shooters specifically,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “The goal is to get good players the right shots and for them to shoot them the right way. It gets a little tricky when you’re doing that and they’re still not making it.”
The first half left the Longhorns stuck at an uneasy three-point lead after 20 minutes. While Texas led for most of the half, the Cowboys continued to be aggressive, playing with confidence and shooting the ball well. At times, the home team looked discombobulated and struggled to develop chemistry.
“We can have five guys connected around each other with just one cause,” Smart said. “When we’ve done that this year that’s when we’ve been at our best, and when we haven’t done that we’ve put ourselves in a tougher position. It’s clearly something that we have to continue learning.”
McNeese State fought in the second half as well, taking a four-point lead five minutes in. However, the Longhorns rose to the occasion, tightening up on defense and hitting clutch shots late in the game, including a three-pointer by Jones that gave Texas a lead with about a minute left on the clock.
“That was a great response by our guys at the end of the game,” Smart said. “We talk a lot about what goes into winning, but it’s a matter of going and doing it. To get a stop at the end and make some big shots in the last four minutes was big.”
One of the biggest contributors down the stretch was sophomore guard Courtney Ramey, who chipped in 14 points and hit two clutch free throws to give the team the lead for good with eight seconds left on the clock. Ramey had struggled in recent games to find a rhythm on offense, but scored when it mattered for the Longhorns.
“He’s a winner,” Smart said. “You saw down the stretch the plays that he made were winning plays. He finds ways to make winning plays, and if he can approach the entire game the way that he approached the end of that game then he’s really got something.”
The team can take lessons away from the close call. Big 12 conference play doesn’t start until January, but the team can continue to tune up for those games against UAB on Tuesday.
“The response at the end of the game was huge,” Smart said. “It won us the game. That’s a step in the right direction, but now it’s about how we respond going into our next game.”