Best moments of 2020: Coleman’s heroics sink Sooners

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Photo Credit: Jack Myer | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.

You lose answers when a season unexpectedly ends like this.

You lose answers to questions like, “Will Texas sneak into the NCAA Tournament?” “Will Shaka Smart save his job?” “Can Texas actually win games in March?” Sadly, we’ll never know.

We never got to watch Texas take on Texas Tech in the Big 12 Tournament in a must-win game to swipe a late bid into the Big Dance, or watch Texas try for its sixth win in seven games.

But what we did get to watch was junior point guard Matt Coleman bank in an instantly iconic 3-pointer to lift Texas over the rival Sooners 52-51 on March 3, and the madness that ensued.

“You know how in the NBA they say, ‘Where amazing happens?’” Coleman said. “Well, in March, that’s where amazing happens as well.”

Texas, a team previously written off at 4–8 in conference play, had scratched and clawed its way back into tournament contention. ESPN said a résumé win at Oklahoma would boost the Longhorns’ tournament hopes to 67% ahead of their next game against Oklahoma State. The temperature of Texas head coach Shaka Smart’s hot seat largely rested on making the tournament, long regarded as the minimum standard for Texas basketball.

In their last four games, the Longhorns had visibly played with the sense of desperation that had mostly eluded Smart in his first four seasons with Texas –– and they were doing it without four starters they began the year with.

“Our guys have looked at our injury situation and looked at the fact that we had lost some games and said, ‘The guys that we have, you’ve got to find a way to be better,’” Smart said. “It’s easier for guys to lose themselves in the fight when you’ve only got eight of them.”

The injuries forced Smart to turn to an inexperienced and previously unproductive bench of freshman forward Will Baker, freshman guard Donovan Williams, freshman forward Brock Cunningham and junior forward Royce Hamm Jr. That unproven squad –– shockingly –– fit perfectly into Smart’s system.

“A lot of people are counting us out right now because we’ve got a lot of injuries, but we believe in each one of our players,” sophomore guard Courtney Ramey said after a 70-59 win over Kansas State.

The bench’s productivity continued against Oklahoma. Cunningham and Hamm each nearly dropped double-doubles with eight points and 11 rebounds, and Hamm continued his streak of highlight-reel blocks.

But down two with 6.1 seconds remaining and the Sooners at the free-throw line, everybody knew which player needed to have the ball in his hands: Matt Coleman.

Oklahoma senior forward Kristian Doolittle’s first free throw rimmed out, and for a moment, Texas had hope. Hope that their season wouldn’t effectively end with a loss in Norman. Hope that the Longhorns could sneak into the Dance. And, most importantly, hope that Doolittle would miss the second free throw.

Coleman looked at Hamm and confidently said, “I’m about to win this.” Hamm never had a doubt.

Doolittle’s second free throw rimmed out and fell into Cunningham’s hands. The redshirt freshman immediately turned and handed the ball to Coleman, who sprinted down the court.

Coleman watched the clock as he crossed the timeline. Six seconds, then five, then four. At three, he hurriedly set his feet just on the other side of the ball screen Hamm set. He leaned forward, double-clutched and banked it hard off the glass.

“I didn’t call bank, but I knew it was good,” Coleman said. “It’s a little passion, a little luck, and a little of March.”