The Longhorns were missing a key advantage before even taking the court Saturday.
Any home-court advantage the Longhorns had quickly evaporated as the sea of red in the stands turned the environment into what seemed like a neutral-site game. Ultimately, the Longhorns lost to the Red Raiders 62-57 in a game they had every opportunity to win.
Each shot for either team brought roars from the crowd; the Tech faithful showed out in what was an important matchup for both squads. Thanks to the hot hand of redshirt sophomore guard Andrew Jones, who scored 16 points in the first half, the fans in burnt orange had far more reason to cheer in the first 20 minutes of game time.
“Today’s an emotional game,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “I thought with both teams there was a lot of emotion out there. The crowd got really into it.
Coming into the game, Texas Tech was ahead of the Longhorns by a single game in the Big 12 standings, and a victory would have given Texas a key conference win. The coaching staff and the players were both aware of this fact heading into the contest, adding to the emotions.
“We talked about it a lot coming into this game, particularly Texas Tech coming into this game one game ahead of us in the standings,” Smart said. “Our guys are very aware of where we stand and what we need to do.”
With Tech seemingly unable to get out of its own collective head, the Longhorns had the opportunity to slam on the gas. After several three-second violations and a traveling call on a fast-break scoring chance, the Red Raiders were on their heels. And, at least in the first half, Texas was taking advantage, carrying a 12-point lead into the second half.
“This one really, really stings because (of) the way that our guys came out and fought and approached this challenge to start the game,” Smart said. “We knew coming out of the second half it was going to be Tech trying to make a run.”
The inability to compete at a consistent level from half to half has plagued the Longhorns all year. This game was not only a chance to show that the team can maintain a high level of play for all 40 minutes, but also that they can do it against a quality opponent.
However, when it came time to close out the win the Longhorns began to implode. After coming into the second half with a double-digit lead, Texas allowed Tech to tie the game with a little over 10 minutes left.
“(We’re) just not raising our level to meet our competitor’s activity,” junior guard Matt Coleman said following the loss. “They raised their level, so we have to raise ours even more.”
The game would go back and forth for the rest of the half. What was once the opportunity for a dominant win at home turned into yet another roller coaster of an afternoon.
The last two and a half minutes featured three lead changes, with the final change going the way of the Red Raiders. With the loss, Texas will have to work even harder to overcome the various obstacles currently keeping them out of the projected NCAA Tournament field.
“There’s no faith lost,” Coleman said. “We know we can compete with any team. We just have to finish games at the end of the day. (We have to) execute better down the stretch on the offensive and defensive end.”