For the third consecutive contest, Texas men’s basketball found itself on the wrong side of the final score in season-defining losses. Saturday’s 69-67 loss to LSU at home exposed the primary problem — an inability to create efficient offense in key situations.
The streak began with a loss that seemed destined from the start. No. 3 Kansas came to town as the more talented, more physically imposing team. A spirited effort by Texas allowed the Longhorns to remain close, but down the stretch the offense failed to take advantage of possessions, thus signaling the start of a troubling trend.
“They’re a good team,” sophomore guard Courtney Ramey said. “They hit some good shots, and obviously we just didn’t finish possessions well by getting the rebound and just securing the ball. You got a team making tough shots, which was hard.”
Two days later, the Longhorns traveled to Morgantown, West Virginia, where they suffered their worst loss of the season at the hands of No. 14 West Virginia. In the 38-point loss, Texas showed little fight in the second half after a huge first-half run by the Mountaineers.
“Just embarrassing. Sick. I don’t want to get into details, but it’s embarrassing,” junior guard Matt Coleman said following the loss. “We just got out-worked, out-played, out-fought. Everything. Just embarrassing. Just sick to see. I gotta take ownership on my end.”
The lack of physicality was apparent in the third loss. Despite a nearly full student section for the first time this season, the players were unable to ride the crowd’s energy and stop the Tigers in the first half, falling into a 10-point deficit.
However, in the second half, the Longhorns started to play more aggressively, driving into the paint.
In the final minutes, the inability to generate offense in critical moments reared its head. After taking a two-point lead with a little over four minutes left in the game, junior forward Royce Hamm Jr. had a costly turnover that led to the tying score for LSU. A missed three and a turnover on back-to-back possessions by redshirt sophomore Andrew Jones gave LSU the opportunity to take the lead for good.
The first-half hole that Texas dug itself into proved insurmountable. In this three-game freefall, the Longhorns have consistently failed to play 40 minutes of their best basketball.
“We kind of break the game down into four-minute segments,” Smart said. “Our guys have won a bunch of four-minute segments in a row. Now we just have to win that last one. We didn’t. The way we win the next game is we take the team and the cultural elements of that stretch where we played really well and we have to play that way for 40 minutes.”
While it will be difficult for the Longhorns to win enough games to make the NCAA Tournament, the establishment of an offensive identity will be key for Texas to claw back into tournament contention. And when it comes to college basketball in March, madness prevails, and anything can happen.