Texas suffers shocking 53-52 upset loss to No. 14 Abilene Christian in NCAA Tournament

Nathan Han

If the Texas basketball season was a movie, winning the Big 12 tournament would have been the Longhorns’ happy ending in a rollercoaster season of ups and downs.

Instead, the season ended on the lowest of lows: an upset loss to No. 14 Abilene Christian in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

“It just doesn’t feel real,” senior guard Matt Coleman said. “It hurts. It feels like a bad dream and I haven’t woken up yet.”

No. 3 Texas played its worst offensive game of the season in the 53-52 loss Saturday night and committed a season-high 23 turnovers against a scrambling, frenetic Wildcats defense that leads the nation in forced turnovers.

A charge erased an open corner 3-pointer. Lazy passes led to breakaway scores. Eighteen Wildcat offensive rebounds led to 12 second-chance points. Texas continually found ways to  hand Abilene Christian extra possessions. 

“Just one too many turnovers tonight,” head coach Shaka Smart said.

Despite the giveaways, Texas stayed in the game through its own stifling defense. The Wildcats shot 27 more field goals than Texas but only made two more shots, shooting 30% from the field and 17% from behind the arc.

Down two points with 28 seconds left to go, the Longhorns had a chance to put those mistakes behind them. As he did so many times in his burnt orange career, Coleman came up clutch. He penetrated the paint, sucked in the defense and found an open Andrew Jones for a go-ahead 3.

Redshirt junior guard Jones didn’t miss, putting Texas up one but leaving 13 seconds on the clock for the Wildcats to respond.

After a wild drive led to a blocked shot from sophomore forward Kai Jones, Coleman and Abilene Christian forward Joe Pleasant collided while battling for a loose ball. 

“We both went for it,” Coleman said. “He got to the ball first, threw it up and they called a foul on me.”

Pleasant, a 59% free throw shooter on the season, sank both of his shots to give the Wildcats the win. 

It was just two of many improbable Abilene Christian makes on offense. Several Wildcats banked in wild shots late in the shot clock, and Pleasant, who had only made 20 threes coming into the tournament, drained a shot from behind the arc with time running low on an early possession.

“The best teams find a way to get beyond that,” Smart said.

Texas lost its chance to compete for the title of the best team in college basketball Saturday night. The three lead guards, Coleman, Jones and junior guard Courtney Ramey, combined for 15 turnovers. The bench only contributed six points, including only three points from freshman forward Greg Brown. 

The 2020-2021 Longhorns can claim victories that no other Texas team can. The Longhorns won the Maui Invitational. They swept Kansas and won the Big 12 tournament, all while climbing as high as No. 4 in the AP Top 25 and finishing at No. 9.

“I thought coming into this tournament, the way that they handled all the things that were thrown our way all year long was just phenomenal,” Smart said. “A lot of stuff could have made people crack or quit or separate, and they really stayed together.”

Smart is still searching for his first win in a NCAA Tournament at Texas, and the program is still searching to make history with its first national championship.

But Saturday, the Longhorns found themselves one point short.