Matt Coleman did it again.
After his heroics against Oklahoma last year, the senior guard hit another game-winning shot to lift Texas to a gritty 69-67 win over No. 14 North Carolina to win the championship game of the 2020 Maui Invitational.
In the final possession, Coleman drove to his right and rose up to hit a step-back free throw line jumper that took its sweet time bouncing around the rim. It was the same spot where the guard had been automatic all night en route to a game-leading 22 points and the Most Valuable Player award of the Invitational.
“I went to the timeout with a little smirk on my face,” Coleman said. “Because I was thinking, ‘I’m made for times like this.’”
Texas took a commanding 40-28 lead in the first half, showing off the stifling defense the team used to beat Indiana on Tuesday. The Longhorns forced North Carolina to commit 10 turnovers and held the Tar Heels to 11-28 shooting.
But in the second half, North Carolina came out of the gates on a 12-2 run and set the tone for the rest of the game by dominating down low.
“We were clearly a little fatigued, and we weren’t necessarily clicking on all cylinders,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “But if you want to be a good team, (you’ve) got to find ways to win on days like that.”
After shooting 7-15 from the three-point line in the first half, Texas’ offense went stagnant, shooting 13-31 from the field. Coleman had the lone burst of scoring to keep Texas afloat with nine straight points in three minutes to give Texas a 56-46 lead with 10:38 left.
North Carolina responded with its own nine-point run, evening things up at 56-55 and grinding the game down into a slugfest down low, where Texas predictably ran into foul trouble for the third time in three games. The Longhorns had 25 fouls in Wednesday’s game after notching 28 on Monday and 25 on Tuesday.
The big-man combination of North Carolina forwards Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot and Day’Ron Sharpe would give Texas fits on the offensive glass and in the post. The Tar Heels had 12 offensive rebounds in the second half and outrebounded Texas by 18 in the entire game.
Forwards sophomore Kai Jones and senior Royce Hamm Jr. would step up off the bench and provide Texas with solid post defense and energy to match Brooks and Bacot.
“Kai’s a starter for us,” Smart said. “We feel like we have six starters … he’s been terrific, and sky’s the limit for Kai.”
Junior guard Courtney Ramey said before the tournament that the team’s goal was to win as many championships as possible. Now that Texas has one championship under its belt, the team will be looking for more when it starts Big 12 conference play Dec. 13 against Baylor in Waco.
“We told our guys when we came in here in the arena and saw the banners, ‘There’s no Texas on these banners. Texas isn’t up there,’” Smart said. “2020 will be on that banner for the rest of the time as long as the Maui Invitational is playing.”
Before the matchup against the Bears, Texas will play No. 12 Villanova on Dec. 6 and Texas State on Dec. 9. For now, the Longhorns can get some much-needed rest after three games in three days.
Especially Matt Coleman, who played 111 of 120 possible minutes but still had enough in him to will Texas to a win on Wednesday.