In what was supposed to be one of the easier home games of the season, the Longhorns found a way to make life more difficult.
But in a narrow 72-68 victory over Iowa State, Texas found a way to deliver down the stretch to pick up a crucial win.
Welcoming the Cyclones, a bottom three team in the Big 12, was an opportunity to gain momentum heading into a challenging stretch that features two teams currently ranked in the top three. What happened instead was a fight to save their season.
“We told our guys this is a swing game,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “It is for Iowa State, and it is for us. And it’s one we need to go grab because it makes a huge, huge difference obviously in the feeling you have and where you stand and where you sit if you win.”
Throughout the first five minutes of play, it looked like the aggressiveness that had started to define the team over the past few games had successfully found its way into this matchup. Intense defensive efforts coupled with high-percentage shots in a pair of junior forward Jericho Sims’ dunks put the Longhorns on top early.
But as the first half wound down, the problems that have plagued the Longhorns this season reared their collective heads. Turnovers and poor shot selection allowed the Cyclones to climb their way to a lead after being down for a majority of the half.
Given the way the Longhorns played to start the first half, that deficit was not what Texas needed.
“I thought we started the game with the exact mindset that we tried to build over the last couple of days,” Smart said. “Then we lost it. We had some selfish shots for a stretch there in the first half. I thought we had some turnovers that were just unacceptable.”
Thanks to the efforts of junior guard Matt Coleman III, who scored the first six points for the Longhorns out of halftime, Texas was able to hang in the game, never trailing by more than eight well into the second half. Coleman was electric offensively, helping the Longhorns claw back to a lead.
“We just came together,” Coleman said. “Used our timeouts, used huddles during live-play to just come together. In the game of basketball, you’re going to make mistakes and things aren’t going to go your way, so you just got to respond.”
In character with much of the season, however, the Longhorns began to implode. The “here we go again” moments piled up, and it looked as though Iowa State would cling onto the lead for their third win of the conference season.
But with the season on the line, the Longhorns woke up. Down by two with less than two minutes left, sophomore guard Courtney Ramey drained a 3-pointer to give the Longhorns its first lead of the second half. Ramey had been struggling with consistency coming into the game but gave his team the lift they needed when it mattered.
The final minute of the game belonged to the Longhorns. Timely free throws and smart game management allowed the team to close out the hard-earned victory.
The win was Texas’ second in a row and keeps its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. With their backs against the wall, they dropped their inconsistent tendencies and found just enough to stay afloat.