After a three-game skid that had head coach Shaka Smart on a molten seat, the Longhorns restored a slight ray of hope in fans by rattling off back-to-back wins over TCU and Iowa State. Then, they lost another close contest to the No. 3-ranked Kansas Jayhawks shortly after.
If you just watched the first half of Texas basketball’s Saturday showdown against the Red Raiders, that ray turned into a glimmer as the Longhorns built a 31-19 lead by intermission, and at one point, stretched the lead to 16. However, that glimmer was short lived. Head coach Chris Beard and Texas Tech stormed back to a 62-57 win at the Frank Erwin Center.
Before dissecting Texas’ implosion, it is important to note how the Longhorns built their lead — on the efforts of Andrew Jones. The redshirt sophomore guard was on fire early, scoring 14 of his 18 points in just over 15 minutes, while the rest of the team was 7 of 21 from the field.
Early on, the Longhorns kept the Red Raiders on their toes. Sure, Tech was moving the ball and getting some good looks, but there was an uncharacteristically high number of unforced errors with 11 turnovers in the first 17 minutes. A large factor was Texas’ energy on defense. Junior guard Jase Febres’two blocks in the first half were a prime example of the Longhorns’ effectiveness during the early stretches of the contest.
Most people will point to the 15-4 second half run by Tech, but the seeds of the comeback began almost immediately after Jones scored his 14th point of the game on a pull up three-pointer that extended the lead to 27-11, forcing Beard to call a timeout shortly thereafter.
On their first defensive possession out of the timeout, Tech made sure to pressure Jones, forcing a turnover and fast break points. Until then, the Raiders treated Jones as a minimal threat. Once they saw that he was one of two players contributing on offense, along with junior guard Matt Coleman, all Tech had to do was try and force other players to beat them. Just look at the difference in how they treat Jones over these two possessions. He was allowed to get open in the first play. During the second possession, Jones has the attention of both his defender and the defender of the screener, forcing him to give up the ball that bounces off sophomore guard Courtney Ramey.
Jones also did not do himself many favors in the second half. He turned the ball over two times, as he did in this fast break where he tries to dribble through four defenders. Decision-making is not a strength for this Longhorn team, as Coleman is the only one with an assist-to-turnover ratio above 1.5 this season. Once Texas Tech settled down, its defensive pressur, which is second in the Big 12 at 16.39 turnovers per game, was too much for the Longhorns’ guards to handle.
It was not shocking to see the Red Raiders limit Jones. The issue was that no one stepped up to take Jones’ place. Coleman and Jones combined for 35 of Texas’ 57 points, and no other player scored more than five points. Junior forward Jericho Sims was completely shut down by the likes of senior forward TJ Holyfield and Chris Clarke, going 0 of 2 from the field before fouling out with just over three minutes to play. Beard made sure to be physical with Sims early and often, and it worked.
While Holyfield probably gets away with a foul on this missed lay in from Sims, this sequence showcased the Raiders’ plan of not letting him control the paint. Furthermore, Texas seemingly refused to try anything to get him involved, almost phasing him out from the offense. For a player that has been so key to the Longhorns’ success, they did not do a good job trying to keep Sims in the flow of the game.
Febres and Ramey have been key to the Longhorns’ success this whole season, and that held true on Saturday, as the two guards scored a combined five points on 2 of 11 shooting. It was tough for the Longhorns to have any sustained success when two of their starters disappeared.
Defensively, Texas seemed to have lost all of the positive traits the team showed in the first half. The Longhorns dug their own grave by disregarding one of the basic principles of defense: figure out who you’re guarding.
On one of Tech’s many second-half transition opportunities, look how Febres runs back on defense as he watches Ramey bring the ball up the court. Both he and Coleman believe that they are guarding Ramey, which turns a three-on-two fast break into essentially a three-on-one opportunity. This allowed an uncovered junior guard Davide Moretti to hit a spot-up three on the left wing. The lack of communication and cohesiveness are excellent catalysts for blowing leads, and Texas Tech took those opportunities and capitalized on them.
The Longhorns also allowed Tech’s key players to get comfortable. After holding Raiders sophomore guard Kyler Edwards to 0 of 6 shooting in the first half, the Longhorns opened up an unimpeded path to the hoop for the first two of his 10 second half points. Edwards, a 51.2% shooter on two point shots compared to 29% from deep this season, got to his most effective spots consistently in the second half, and it unsurprisingly turned into more points for Texas Tech.
As Texas heads into the home stretch of the season, it is probably too late to expect any real chance of an NCAA Tournament berth. However, if the Longhorns keeps putting up performances such as these, we might not get to see them defend their National Invitation Tournmant title.