Heading into Tuesday’s game against No. 24 Oklahoma, the fifth-ranked Longhorns were as short-handed as it gets: The team only had the minimum eight players available.
Then, three Longhorns fouled out of Tuesday’s game at the Frank Erwin Center, where Texas’ late comeback run fell just short at the end, 80-79.
But, as ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla said on the national television broadcast about the Longhorns’ positive COVID-19 cases, “Nobody is going to feel sorry for Texas.”
“It’s the world that we live in and the circumstances we have to deal with every day,” senior guard Matt Coleman said. “No excuses here. Everybody is going through it … and when it comes to basketball, it’s (the same) for every collegiate team.”
Texas was no exception Tuesday. Starting senior forward Jericho Sims, starting junior guard Courtney Ramey and redshirt sophomore forward Brock Cunningham were all out. So was head coach Shaka Smart after he tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday.
But the team didn’t make it any easier on themselves with its foul trouble.
Twenty-nine Texas fouls led to 34 Oklahoma free throw attempts. And after a stretch of 12 total fouls committed by both teams in the first four minutes of the second half, Texas had three players with four fouls, just one away from fouling out, including Coleman.
Even without Coleman for much of the second half, Texas battled back from a nine-point first-half deficit, which Oklahoma built largely off the back of an early 13-0 run.
“There were a couple of times during that second half where we could’ve just laid down and quit,” said assistant coach K.T. Turner, who filled in with head coaching duties for Smart. “We told them, ‘One possession at a time,’ and they just kept fighting.”
Nobody had more of a turnaround than sophomore forward Kai Jones, who went 0-for-5 with four turnovers in the first half before pouring in 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting and collecting his first career double-double in the second half.
But every time the Longhorns came within striking distance at five or six points, they couldn’t come up with one more stop. Oklahoma senior guard Austin Reaves had momentum-killing bucket after bucket, ending with a game-high 23 points.
The final Longhorn run seemed like it could’ve been the one to stick. Down 78-70, Texas rattled off seven straight points to cut the lead to one point. Then, with less than 30 seconds left, Coleman fouled Reaves, sending Oklahoma’s most accurate free-throw shooter to the line and sending Coleman to the bench after he fouled out.
Reaves hit both free throws to put Oklahoma up three, just as clutch as he had been for the first 39 minutes of the game. But after two Texas free throws, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hill missed both of his free throws and gave Texas a shot to win with 2.3 seconds left.
Walk-on senior Blake Nevins, a former high school quarterback, came in to inbound the ball the length of the court on Texas’s final play.
“We have a play where (guard) Andrew (Jones) is supposed to come up to screen for me,” Kai Jones said. “I’m supposed to come up and catch the pass at the top of the key. The pass was just overthrown … it went over my head, and the other team ended up grabbing it.”
Texas fell to 11–3 overall and 5–2 in Big 12 conference play. It’s still unknown whether Smart will return for the Longhorns’ upcoming game against Kentucky on Jan. 30 and which players Texas will have available.
But, as Coleman said, the team is going forward with the “no excuses here” mentality.