The Texas Longhorns advanced to the next round of their self-induced single-elimination tournament, beating the Kansas State Wildcats 62-49 in the final regular season home game at Club Erwin. I was at the game for once, so I'm going to take a little different tack than normal and focus on the feel of the game in person rather than my usual stat nerdery. Also, apologies in advance for any formatting errors, my iPad doesn't like me this morning.
Moment of the Night:
Nope, not that. OK, it probably was that on a superficial level. Everyone saw the break coming, they saw Cam running downhill, they saw the angles and they knew what was about to happen. When Cameron Ridley threw that dunk down, the crowd went so apeshit you couldn't even hear the refs(or the announcers) call the KSU timeout. You also saw Myles Turner come off the bench and tell the crowd to get hyped during that timeout. So yea, that was an awesome moment to be a part of...but that's not the moment of the night. The moment of the night was Jonathan Holmes attempting a 3rd 3-pointer and missing. Perhaps I should explain. See, for most of the game, Holmes was off on his shot. The stroke looked decent enough, his rhythm seemed alright, but the shots weren't falling. Again. And that's exactly what the crowd was thinking, 'Not again'. It wasn't that they hated him shooting or they were tired of him shooting, it was severe frustration with the shots not going in. Again. Everybody in The Drum wanted those shots to fall, but have seen so many draw iron over the last few weeks that they felt like they knew how this story was going to end. And then, with 8:15 left in the game, Holmes nailed a 3 and the crowd was happy. Relieved is probably a more apt description. Then Holmes drained another 3 and the crowd started buzzing. So when Holmes went for the heat check 3, the crowd was ready to go RonPaulItsHappening.gif all over itself. It missed and the crowd was disappointed, and that's the moment of the night. Holmes was playing well enough that people were disappointed when the 3 went in, which is a significant change from how the last handful of games have been. We might be seeing Holmes return to form, y'all.
Since I was at the game instead of watching on TV, I tried to focus on things I don't get to see through the camera's lens. This means I spent a lot of time watching the coaches and the bench. Specifically, I watched the dead-ball huddles and the coaching staff interacting with the players at substitutions. Let me say this without equivocation: the players are listening to Barnes. There's no tuning out, they aren't ignoring him, they're all invested in this season. And for that matter, Barnes wasn't lighting them up much either. The only moment I saw Barnes breathe fire was when Javan Felix threw that terrible pass to Connor Lammert in the 2nd half; Barnes just about shot lasers out of his eyes when he subbed Isaiah Taylor in for Felix, but half the crowd about shot lasers out of their eyes at that pass too. Say what you will about Barnes' coaching style, but he hasn't ground this team down. He was firm with them and would pull them aside to talk about certain moments of the game, but he wasn't screaming like crazy. Rob Lanier was the screamer yesterday. Hell, Barnes was even managing to put in curtain calls for guys in the 2nd half. He gave Ridley a blow after that dunk, he gave Holmes a breather after his mini-run, and he got Tarale a minute of PT at the end for Senior Night. I had very little issues with what I saw from Barnes & crew yesterday.
There were good efforts across the board on this game; the turnovers were down(especially at the beginning of the game, which was really nice to see...or not see, I guess), the man defense was mostly solid(though they're still vulnerable to the back cuts & secondary screens at times), and the zone was peppered in just enough to confuse KSU a little. Prince Ibeh looks impressive in person; I saw him in Kansas City at the beginning of last year and he's much more polished defensively. He's anticipating screens, he's switching on defense well, and he's taking good angles when guards drive on him. If he could work on even a modicum of an offensive game over the off-season, he could have a breakout year next year. Kendal Yancy & Demarcus Holland both looked good to me, even if Yancy's shot isn't falling the form looks good. Really, it was a solid effort all-around.
If I'm being honest, I went to the game to pay my last respects to Rick Barnes' career at Texas. I still feel like the odds are in favor of him being gone after this season...but those odds are shifting with every win. I'm also not seeing the hallmarks of a coach on the outs, at least from a product on the on the floor perspective. This doesn't look like a team that's quit on their coach, it looks more like a team that hit an extended rough patch and is trying to claw its way back from the edge of the abyss. Barnes may have Barnesed the season earlier, but he's also trying to UnBarnes it as well. This isn't your stereotypical Rick Barnes late-season chokejob. It may not matter in the end, but it's relevant context if we're judging his performance. Next up is an opening-round game against Texas Tech; if Texas wins that, they get a game against Iowa State as their 'reward'. The chances are there for Texas to control their own destiny, let's see if they grab it.