Texas head coach Shaka Smart has historically struggled against TCU. But, the last two times the squads have matched up — in the NIT in 2019 and in Fort Worth on Wednesday night — the Longhorns finished the night with a win.
Texas cranked up the defensive intensity, overcame 17 turnovers, held off a late rally and earned a much-needed 62-61 victory to end a three-game skid.
“This is a big win for our guys to build some confidence,” Smart said. “Our guys fought. It wasn’t perfect, but that’s what you’ve got to do to win on the road.”
The 61 points that TCU scored are the fewest Texas has allowed in its past five games, thanks largely to the Longhorns’ full-court press.
Midway through the first half, Smart made the decision to employ his full-court pressure defense Texas fans yearned for following its effectiveness in the second half of the loss to LSU on Saturday.
But this time, Texas used a perfectly timed press in the first half.
Smart was immediately rewarded for his decision with a TCU turnover, leading to a fast break opportunity for Texas.
Smart ultimately called off the press minutes later, but the impact the aggressive defensive call had on his players was apparent through the rest of the half as the Longhorns took a 28-27 lead at the break.
Texas matched its intensity in the second half, going on an 8-0 run to give the Longhorns their first double-digit lead since their win over Oklahoma State on Jan. 15.
“I thought the way we started the second half really won us the game,” Smart said. “Our guys did a really good job of being the aggressors.”
Texas seemed comfortable, but the pesky TCU team fought to stay in the game.
The Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena rose to its feet three times in the final 12 minutes — twice it was forced to sit back down after clutch shots from sophomore guards Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey.
The third time the crowd rose to its feet, it remained standing. After Ramey drilled a miraculous midair double pump baseline shot to put the Longhorns up 59-51 with 4:00 left, TCU made the type of late run that has haunted Texas since the start of 2020.
But unlike in its heartbreaking losses to Oklahoma, Kansas and LSU, Texas made the final play.
TCU’s 8-0 run spanning just over a minute and a half tied the game with 2:20 remaining before Smart called a timeout. Junior guard Jase Febres connected on a three just 30 seconds later to give the Longhorns a three-point lead just inside of two minutes.
“Our guys did a good job in the timeout, saying, ‘Hey, it’s alright. We’ve got this, we can do it,’” Smart said. “We hung in there and made some big shots at the end of the clock.”
TCU sophomore guard RJ Nembhard nailed a pair of free throws on the ensuing possession, cutting Texas’ lead to one and ultimately setting the game up for a final shot from TCU with six seconds left.
But as Nembhard drove the length of the court and dribbled hard toward the right wing, junior forward Jericho Sims slid in the way, forcing Nembhard to drag his foot and travel. Texas inbounded the ball and ran out the clock to pick up the win.
“We talked the last couple of days about owning the challenge,” Smart said. “We knew there were going to be challenges today, and our guys did a great job.”