Texas’ season finale was over right as it started.
After winning five consecutive games with only nine scholarship players to throw the Longhorns to the forefront of the NCAA Tournament discussion, the red-hot Longhorns experienced a complete meltdown in the first half, digging a hole they wouldn’t be able to climb out of against Oklahoma State on Saturday afternoon in their 81-59 loss to the Cowboys.
“We got a reality check,” junior guard Matt Coleman said. “Tonight was not us, from start to finish.”
Texas was without an answer for everything the Cowboys did. Oklahoma State outshot, outrebounded and outsmarted the Longhorns, quickly draining the energy out of a season-best Frank Erwin Center crowd with a 20-3 run in the first seven minutes.
It wasn’t totally Texas’ fault that it couldn’t match Oklahoma State’s personnel the way they were able to in the team’s first matchup in January. The Longhorns were without junior guard Jase Febres and junior forward Jericho Sims — two starters from their last meeting in January. But freshman forward Brock Cunningham and junior forward Royce Hamm Jr., two players who have been instrumental to Texas’ win streak, were nowhere to be found.
“They were playing with some avoidance, (trying) not to make a mistake,” Smart said. “Those guys have to be junkyard dogs, and that’s what they’ve done such a nice job of. We didn’t have that today.”
Texas was in desperate need of Jase Febres’ 3-point shooting and Jericho Sims’ rebounding. The Longhorns shot an abysmal 25% from the field in the first half, only connecting on two of their 15 attempts from deep. Oklahoma State senior guard Thomas Dziagwa, however, had little trouble finding his spots.
Texas’ strategy of locking one defender on the senior guard was easily dissected by Oklahoma State. The various ball screens and pick plays the Cowboys ran Dziagwa off of gave him four open looks from deep — all of which he connected on. A lack of offensive production prevented Smart from keeping Cunningham in the game.
“Our guys got (tight) after the start of the game,” Smart said. “If you get down big early, there’s still a ton of time to play basketball. We just kept imploring our guys to respond and go win the next round, but you could see on their faces they couldn’t believe what was happening.”
Texas spent the entirety of the first half in a futile attempt to crawl back into the game. But every time Texas managed to cut the lead inside of 15 points, the Cowboys answered with a 7-0 or 9-0 run. Oklahoma State held a 43-21 lead at halftime. The lead would only dip below 20 points once in the second half.
“(Oklahoma State) came in here, they made shots and they were aggressive,” Smart said. “But this is a game that anyone in our program will point to and say, ‘We want that one back.’”
Texas’ chances for an NCAA Tournament bid fall to 53% with the loss, per ESPN. The Longhorns tournament hopes now rest on success in the Big 12 Tournament, where college basketball experts say Texas needs to win at least one game. Sophomore guard Courtney Ramey remains confident, even with the blow Texas’ chances took.
“We let this one slip away, but we’re not going to hang our heads,” Ramey said. “We’ve still got basketball games to play in Kansas City. I know we’re going to do a great job of responding because we’ve done that all year. We’re just going to keep fighting.”