It only took the madness of March three days to set in for the Longhorns.
In hitting a near buzzer-beater to sneak past Oklahoma 52-51 Tuesday night, junior guard Matt Coleman III is the first to attest to the month’s chaos.
“It’s March right now. The time of the win just feels good,” Coleman said. “Texas-OU, the rivalry, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Texas had played well against the rival Sooners for most of 40 minutes, but 50 of the final 60 seconds were unforgiving to the Horns. The Sooners stole a one-point lead from the Longhorns with 39 seconds left on a pair of senior forward Kristian Doolittle free throws. Oklahoma forced a defensive stop on the other end, placing the game in their own hands.
After blocking sophomore guard Courtney Ramey with under 30 seconds to play, Texas immediately fouled with the Sooners up one. Oklahoma junior forward Brady Manek drained both shots, and Oklahoma took a comfortable 50-47 lead with 26 seconds left. But Texas didn’t stop fighting.
“Our mantra is having the audacity to play with no fear and to respond when things don’t go our way,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “It certainly was a game where there’s a lot of things that didn’t go our way, but our guys just kept fighting.”
Coleman connected on a contested baseline floater, and Manek gifted Texas a late chance. He missed the first of his two free throws to ensure the lead would not grow beyond two points in the final seconds.
Coleman sped up the court and quickly got to the right baseline, no more than 9 feet from the basket. Coleman tried to create separation between himself and the Oklahoma defender with his shoulder, but couldn’t create enough. He threw up an air ball and sent Doolittle to the line.
Needing only one make to give the Sooners a 3-point lead, Doolittle missed both free throws and gave the Longhorns a second chance.
It was déjà vu for Smart, who last year found himself in a remarkably similar predicament before Coleman’s game-tying attempt was blocked.
“Poetic justice,” Smart said. “We had the good fortune of them missing free throws … and Matt made a great play.”
Coleman crossed half-court and picked up a high ball screen from junior forward Royce Hamm Jr. Trapped between three Sooner defenders, Coleman tapped his feet, leaned in and threw up a 30-foot line drive. He drained it off the glass, shocking an Oklahoma crowd that had been nearly ensured a win on Senior Night just 10 seconds earlier.
“It’s about letting your nuts hang,” Coleman said. “At the end of the day, it’s about making plays.”
Texas’ playmaking may have proved to be just enough to save Texas’ season. After winning what NCAA Tournament expert Joe Lunardi effectively called a play-in game, the Longhorns’ tournament chances jump to 67% ahead of Saturday’s matchup with eighth-place Oklahoma State.
“Sometimes you need some evidence to be able to keep going and to be able to stay with the process,” Smart said. “For them to win these games in tough environments is huge, and Saturday is going to be a big one for us.”