EGADS. TEXAS CAN WIN A CLOSE GAME AFTER ALL. PRAISE THE GODS FOR CLOSE VICTORIES AND DAENERYS TARGARYEN.
It was a game that Texas probably should have won by double-digits but could have lost in heartbreaking fashion. Repeatedly letting the short-handed Aggies back into the game--and then winning by just 2--may have been the best thing for the hard luck Longhorns. Texas showed moxie, poise, clutchitude, Brown balls, et cetera and so forth, your favorite qualitative colloquialism here. The Longhorns are now an outstanding 1-7 in games decided by six points or less. That's #WINNING.
Texas' Last Minute of Play - The Horns really did no wrong in that final minute. Barnes' set play call to free up Brown. J'Covan's drive and layup to take the lead. Chapman's sealing of the post defender on that play. Kabongo's quick hands on the steal. Brown's ice cold demeanor at the line. Lewis' big boy rebound and outlet recognition for the win. Even the one "mistake" -- Kabongo certainly looked like he inadvertently fouled Elston Turner before Turner could attempt a 3 -- was ultimately the correct basketball decision.
Longhorns Beyond the Arc - 6 for 11 (54.5%) ain't bad, highlighted by Brown's perfect 4 for 4 night. Kabongo and Holmes both hit huge treys as well. But more important were the shots that Texas passed up. This season, the Longhorns are shooting just 33.2% from 3, but a more respectable 49.4% from inside the arc. And while normally 31.8% of its field goal attempts are 3's, Texas limited itself to just 21% against the Aggies. Excellent constraint, gentlemen!
The Offensive Game Plan - Despite some preseason catcalls for Texas to limit its height deficiency through increased "run-n-gun" tempo, the Longhorns have played at a slow pace this year (219th in adjusted tempo). However, Barnes recognized that Texas A&M's offensive limitations meant that Billy Kennedy's club is even more glacially slow (301st). He suspected A&M would try its darndest to bleed all 35 seconds on the shot clock and limit total possessions. To combat this, Barnes told Kabongo to go at 110%. On every defensive miss, Kabongo looked to zoom down the court, create easy scoring opportunities, and push tempo. It's a style Texas has not showed very often this year, but it looked good.
S-Mac to the Rescue! - After breaking out of a mini-slump by scoring 17 against Texas Tech, Sheldon McClellan was nails for a Texas offense struggling to create. Texas A&M's defensive gameplan was to ball deny J'Covan Brown, and Texas needed a secondary scorer to step up. McClellan started shaky, missing two 3's, then got into a rhythm. He scored Texas' last 9 first half points, including a beautiful step back, and-1 jumper that got me amped. McClellan's offensive potential is through the roof, and when he learns there are two ends of the court, he'll be an All-Conference player for Texas.
The Little Things of Julien Lewis - I know his box score isn't pretty, but I'm really starting to love the little things Lewis does. He took over as the primary ballhandler on a few possessions, he made a few hustle plays to get to loose balls, and he displayed better court vision than I previously gave him credit for. The reason he gets minutes, of course, is that Lewis is the above average defender that McClellan is not. Yes, Lewis still has a ways to go to become a consistent contributor on offense. But being thrown into the deep end as a freshman will pay dividends down the road.
J'Covan LIKE A BOSS - Should this just be a recurring paragraph? Aside from his foursquare from long distance, I thought Brown was taken out of the offense quite effectively by Texas A&M. Then I see the box score and notice he rung up 7 assists. I honestly can't recall how he accrued so many. Obviously his game-winning dribble drive was money, as were his two free throws.
Elston Turner: Lead Guard - Texas A&M without Khris Middleton is a hideous offense, but the Aggies and Longhorns traded hot and cold streaks to come out with a pretty decent box score. If you had told me before the game that the Aggies were going to hit 50%, I would've put a Benjamin on maroon. A big reason for the offensive efficiency bump is the injury to Dash Harris, which has propelled Turner into the primary ballhandling role. Turner is a more potent offensive threat than Harris, and it showed last night. Turner racked up 20 points (6-10 shooting, 3-5 from 3), keeping the Aggies competitive throughout. On the season, here's Harris' 2-FG/3-FG/FT percentage slash: .378/.289/.485. Here's Elston's: .438/.392/.831. Of course, Elston is beyond abysmal as a facilitator, but for a team in desperate need of an offensive spark, Texas A&M should really be considering handing the ball to Elston full-time. He's like an even more homeless brother of a homeless man's LaceDarius Dunn.
Ray Turner's Dunk - I'll admit it. That was nice.
8-1 7 1/2-1 - Yes, I actually looked up the updated standings to the Lonestar Showdown Sponsored by BJ Raji's Discount Double Check Dance.
Post Defense - It was atrocious. It's one thing to give up position to a brutally strong manchild like Thomas Robinson or a lanky freak like Perry Jones. It's another entirely to consistently lose battles to JAGs like David Loubeau and Ray Turner. Texas' big men were constantly on the wrong hip of their offensive post player, allowing them to push deep into the paint for easy catch-and-shoot buckets. Even more detrimental was the bigs' substandard performance on the boards (Jaylen Bond's 8 rebounds aside). Texas guards (Kabongo, McClellan and Lewis) combined for 12 of Texas' 24 total rebounds. That is, how do you say, not good.
Foul Trouble - Sometimes, Clint Chapman makes me want to pull my hair out. I will say that's better than the "every time" I felt during the first three years. Chapman picked up two bunny fouls before the first TV timeout, played 12 total minutes, and snagged just one rebound. It was a forgettable night for the senior. Holmes and Wangmene also found themselves with four fouls by the end whistle, and against a better front line, the mediocre frontcourt play would have been a strong indicator of a double digit loss.
Myck Kabongo's Draft Stock - Kabongo's draft stock is falling, which I guess is actually good for Texas fans. ESPN's Chad Ford gives more insight:
Kabongo is playing in the backcourt with J'Covan Brown -- one of the biggest gunners in the game. The rest of the Texas team doesn't give him a lot to work with. He can disappear for long stretches and doesn't always look comfortable. Scouts are still in love with his talent and project him as a top-10 pick -- but only if he stays another year in school.
End of a Rivalry - As much as I can't wait for the Aggies to GTFO in football, I'll miss the rivalry games in basketball. There's been some good ones in recent years: the OT win to get to 17-0, Wangmene standing up to Big Bad Brian Davis, Augustin and Josh Carter making it rain, KD one-upping Acie Law. But alas, the times, they are a' changin'.
The Reed Arena Floor - I know everything is bigger in Texas, but that hardwood is uglier than Ian McShane in assless chaps.
It's always nice to beat a rival, but Texas A&M flat out stinks. A win is a win, but what Texas needs is a WIN. At 15-9, Texas needs to be thinking about the road to not only 20 W's, but also a statement victory or two. The Longhorns have two games left against top 25 opponents, vs. Baylor and at Kansas, as well as this Saturday's game against Kansas State. One of those has to be a win to get to 20, but is also a necessary resume bullet for the tournament committee. Ideally, Texas secures a victory against the Wildcats, goes on a mini-run and flies high into the Baylor game.