To say that college basketball is unpredictable would be an understatement.
So unpredictable, in fact, that a Texas team that suffered a 38-point loss nearly three weeks ago in West Virginia can pull together a 12-point halftime lead over national runner-up Texas Tech — and still lose 62-57 in Austin. And they almost pulled out the victory on the back of a 23-year old sophomore in his first season back since winning his battle with leukemia.
Andrew Jones, who underwent his last treatment in September, hasn’t slowed down since he returned to the court. The redshirt sophomore guard is averaging 10.6 points per game on the season, a slight step back from the 11.4 points he averaged in his last full season with the team.
But Saturday afternoon, Jones was back to being the excited and confident kid able to put his recent struggles behind him.
“Even though we didn’t make shots in Kansas, the confidence has never left,” Jones said. “I was fortunate to hit a couple of good looks in the first half. I just have to continue to be consistent.”
Jones exploded for 16 points in the first half, nearly outscoring Texas Tech’s 19 points and accounting for more than half of Texas’ 31.
His second half, and Texas’, was a different tale. The Longhorns’ once comfortable double-digit lead was erased midway through the second half as the Raiders battled back to tie the game at 41. Jones only hit one of his six shots, leaving Texas without his production for the final 13 minutes. He didn’t attempt a shot in the final six minutes.
“I was getting pretty good looks. I just couldn’t buy a bucket,” Jones said. “I just didn’t hit shots.”
Texas’ offensive struggles weren’t limited to Jones. The Longhorns turned the ball over nine times in the second half, more than twice the amount they did in the first. Against a defensive-minded team like Texas Tech, turnovers were a luxury the Longhorns couldn’t afford.
“When you’re fortunate enough to have a big lead, anything can happen. We’ve all been on those sides of games,” Chris Beard, Texas Tech head coach, said. “Sometimes when you’re down, you just keep chipping away.”
With Jones effectively silenced for the second half and Texas’ offense bleeding turnovers, Matt Coleman understood the need for a spark and some second-half aggression.
Coleman assumed the offensive reins, scoring or assisting on 15 of Texas’ 26 points after halftime, although it wouldn’t be enough to overcome the Raider Power that had infiltrated the Erwin Center.
“We just (weren’t) raising our level to meet our competitor’s activity,” Coleman said. “They raised their level, so we have to raise ours even more.”
Texas’ second consecutive loss deals a serious blow to its NCAA Tournament hopes. After losing its fourth game where it held a halftime lead, Texas is quickly running out of opportunities to prove itself a tournament team.
“We talked about (the importance of winning) a lot coming into this game, particularly with Texas Tech being one game ahead of us in the standings,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “Our guys are very aware of where we stand and what we need to do.”
When asked about what his team needs to do to cling onto a quickly fading tournament spot, Smart said, “Just win.”