Five minutes into the second half of Texas’ game against Oklahoma State on Sunday, it seemed as if the Longhorns’ offense had gone dormant. The Cowboy’s 2-3 zone had given Texas fits, including one especially ugly shot clock violation possession.
Then, freshman forward Greg Brown showed why he was one of the premier recruits in the nation, hitting two straight 3-pointers that would spark a 11-0 Texas run and make all the difference in the team’s 77-74 win over Oklahoma State at the Frank Erwin Center.
“We just needed a spark, something to get us going,” Brown said. “The (second 3-pointer) was definitely a heat check.”
The No. 11 Longhorns won their first Big 12 conference game and improved to 7–1, in large part due to Brown, who led the team in scoring and rebounding with 24 points and 14 rebounds.
“This is by far the best he’s played,” head coach Shaka Smart said.
In a game where junior guard Courtney Ramey, Texas’s leading scorer, scored 0 points and fouled out, Brown and redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones stepped up on offense.
Jones, who scored a season-high 22 points on 8-17 shooting, kept the Longhorns in the game as the two teams traded leads in the first half and the start of the second half.
“In games like this where some guys are struggling offensively, we’re going to need Andrew to step forward like he did today,” Smart said.
In Texas’s dismal 29-point first half, both Ramey and senior guard Matt Coleman struggled to shoot and create offense for others against the Cowboys’ zone.
On the other end, the two guards played stout defense on star Cowboy freshman guard Cade Cunningham.
“Other than a few possessions where we fouled unnecessarily, I thought our guys did a nice job on Cade,” Smart said. “But at the same time, he’s scored 25 points … there’s a reason that everybody’s got him as the No. 1 pick next year.”
Cunningham would score only seven points and commit four turnovers in the first half. But after Brown sparked Texas’s 11-0 run to give the Longhorns their largest lead of the afternoon at 55-42, the Oklahoma State freshman went on a run of his own, slowly chipping away at Texas’ lead.
He put on a one-man show in his 18-point second-half effort, bringing the Cowboys as close as 73-71 with 21 seconds left. Then, Oklahoma State intentionally fouled Brown.
The forward had just gone 1-3 from the free throw line in his last two trips, and anything less than two made free throws would give the Cowboys a chance to tie in a one-possession game. But Brown calmly sank both free throws, giving Texas the cushion it needed to escape Oklahoma State’s late comeback.
“I was kind of nervous shooting that one,” Brown said. “I was like, ‘Dang, is this going to go in?’ I had to calm down to shoot it. It felt great. It felt relieving.”
Relieving is the right word for the Longhorns, who didn’t play their best basketball of the season on Sunday but still managed to get the win due to Brown and Jones.
While the team might have a short Christmas break and a last nonconference matchup against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Dec. 29, the rest of the daunting Big 12 schedule is coming soon.
The Longhorns are going to need more of this great basketball from Brown if they’re going to survive.