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Stunned From the Tourney: Texas Longhorns vs. Northern Iowa Panthers

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I knew it. As soon as it left his hand, I knew it. Even still, I went from standing in my living room to slumped onto the sofa as the shot went in. Foreseeing the end doesn't make it any less stunning; in the same way bracing for a literal punch to the gut can make the pain worse, watching the team's season evaporate over 44 feet of a basketball court and knowing it's good 1.5 seconds before it goes through the net can be a metaphorical punch to the gut that's so much worse. This is simultaneously the best and worst way to lose a NCAA Tournament game; the half-court buzzer beater is the Marchiest of March Madness and is one of those things that makes this weekend one of the greatest sporting events in the world. But on the same note, it also means Texas players are going to spend months and years reliving the final moments of a 75-72 loss to the Northern Iowa Panthers, watching it replayed on NCAA Tournament montages for the next decade, wondering what they could have done differently. It's brutal for the team on the wrong side of that shot, and after watching the post-game press conference I can guarantee you none of them are going to forget it. There are 5 seniors (and perhaps a junior) who just watched their college careers end on one of the most improbable shots imaginable. It's...crushing, and there's nothing anybody - not on the team, not the fans, not Fenves & his jet - can do about it for months except digest it. Marinate on it. Ruminate on it. This is part of Shaka's job, though; he's got to console the seniors, and pick up the pieces of the remaining guys to reassemble them like Legos on your kid's floor. Hopefully this loss fuels the remaining players to work harder so they never have to experience a gut punch like this again.

The Good

Isaiah Taylor

I don't know if Zay is coming back for his senior season; if I had to guess I'm saying 70/30 he's gone. But if he's going pro, this was a hell of a send-off. 22 points on 11 shots, 3-4 from 3, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and an enormous set of balls later, Zay has cemented his status as one of the best point guards in Texas history. UNI was actively trying to keep him out of the lane and he still got to the rim again and again. When the rest of the team was panicking, Taylor took the game over. It is hard to imagine Texas without Taylor at the helm next year, and as much as I like the other guards who will be around next year, I frankly don't want to imagine it.

Demarcus Holland

Quick, name the leading rebounder for Texas tonight. Nope. Nope. Not him either. It was Demarcus. Holland led the team with 6 rebounds, hit a 3(!), and played the best on-ball defense of the night on Washpun. He was extremely active all over the floor, and his energy will be difficult to replace. This was a great effort from a guy that has worked his ass off for 4 years straight, he deserves kudos for this performance.

Eric Davis Jr

13 points, 3-5 from 3, and was respectable handling the ball. His outside shot showed up in the 2nd half and was key to Texas regaining the lead. If he can work on his defense in the off-season, he'll be a big part of things going forward.

Prince Ibeh

It's not often you tip your hat to a guy that scores 1 point (on a made f**king free throw, no less), but it's not often you have one guy that alters half the floor simply by existing. Prince was a defensive force in the 2nd half, playing without fouling (much) and managing to eliminate the driving lanes that were a constant green light for UNI in the 1st half. UNI had to alter their entire game plan to try to pull him out of the lane, and he still managed to recover well enough to alter/block multiple shots in the lane. Excellent work by Prince.

The Mixed Bag

Javan Felix

Javan leaves Texas as one of the most polarizing figures ever to wear burnt orange; I'm not particularly interested in litigating his entire career except to say that no matter where you fall on him, you have a solid point. Tonight was a pretty good encapsulation of the pros & cons of the AFH; when he's not hitting shots and he's sagging too far off perimeter players he's a liability, but when he's hitting shots and handling the ball he's a positive. Tonight he was both in good measure; at one point he took two shots in two straight possessions that stymied a good amount of momentum for the 'Horns, but he hit a handful of shots earlier that sparked the same momentum. Javan giveth, Javan taketh away.

The Bad

I'm not naming names on this one tonight; for one, there's enough blame to go around on everybody on the team - well, maybe not the walk-ons - and second, I don't really feel like piling on when the season isn't even cold yet. So let's roll through a couple of categories that apply across the board.

Team Rebounding

A team with 4 guys taller than anybody UNI has to offer should not tie in the rebounding stats with a team that makes near-zero effort to grab offensive rebounds. Texas should have won this category handily, and yet they were nearly even (28-25). This was one of two categories I called out on The Horn, and needless to say it ended up being a significant factor.

Team Defense

UNI averaged 1.19 points per possession, which is Iowa State-like in its production. Credit UNI for having great spacing and attacking the defensive switches, but that number is unconscionable for a team that had hopes of making it more than one night in the post-season.

So that's it for Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh, Javan Felix, Demarcus Holland, Connor Lammert, and Danny Newsome, with Isaiah Taylor TBD. Their watch on the Burnt Orange Wall has ended, and they leave behind a complicated legacy as well as set the tone for a bright yet unclear future. Regardless of whether Zay returns or Jarrett Allen commits to Texas, the squad next season is going to look vastly different than anything we saw this year. Shaka Smart's imprint on the program will increase significantly with the new year, but we'll get to that another time. Now is the time to thank the seniors for their effort, and maybe focus on another buzzer beater for awhile. Thanks for reading.

BWG's writing tunes provided by AKA Carl (SFW).