For the first time in nearly two months, the Texas Longhorns did something unexpected. Most of this season has been predictable in its disappointment, not just because they lost but because of how easy it was to call out ahead of time. Texas played on the road? Bet they lost by single-digits. Texas clawed to within three in the second half? Time for a four-minute scoring drought. Texas has it close late? Here comes the soul-crushing turnover. Hell, Texas had one of these situations tonight, but tonight they did the unexpected; they fought through it and made plays. In a situation where this squad had every reason to fold, they didn’t. Texas is exceedingly young, and most of them have never faced this level of on-court adversity before, it would be easy for them to pack up and head home. Instead they dug deep and fought for the win against a team that has beaten them in the last week. In a season of searching for moral victories, it’s nice to have a moral victory that also involves an actual victory.
Winning Away From Austin
It’s only one win, and it sets Texas up for a quick turnaround against a West Virginia squad that comes at you in waves. Still, it’s good for the ultra-young Texas squad to taste victory outside of Austin. They were uncomfortably close to setting a pretty ignominious record:
#Longhorns avert finishing without a road or neutral site win for the first time since 1909 -- when all nine games were at home.— Mark Rosner (@MarkRosner3) March 9, 2017
Winning away from Austin was about to become A Thing for this group, a note that they would have to hear about for months on end. I am glad I don’t have to spend a paragraph in 2017 Smart Texas Basketball (pre-order now, we’ll sell dozens!) on this awful nugget of team futility.
Texas started to play looser as they took control of the game late, and being the 10-seed means they can play the next game like there’s no tomorrow. Because there probably isn’t. Texas isn’t playing in the CBI or the Vegas 16, it’s the NCAA Tournament or nothing. Might as well go all out now.
In an alternate timeline, Texas has had the services of Mo Isom all season. In that alternate timeline, Texas has been able to space the floor more effectively because of his ability to hit a three...and his ability to hit a three has kept Eric Davis Jr on the bench, which had an added effect to the team’s offensive efficiency. We don’t live in that timeline, but at least we get to see a little bit of why Shaka Smart brought Isom to town.
Yancy put in 26 quality minutes for Texas tonight. His shot selection was great, his defense was mostly solid, and his effort was the effort you would expect of a guy who knows these are the waning moments of his basketball career. The last 20 seconds of the first half where he grabs a loose ball & converts a bunny layup is a quintessential senior moment and a good lesson for all the younger players; sometimes effort is enough to put you in the right spot to make a difference. Shaka should give Yancy as many minutes as he can handle for the rest of the tournament, it could pay dividends against West Virginia.
Free Throw Shooting
This win does not happen without Texas shooting 80% from the charity stripe. Texas was 16-20 from the line, including Jarrett Allen and Andrew Jones combining to shoot 12-13. The lone Jones miss was on the front end of a 1-and-1, otherwise they were both nails. I wish I had half their free throw ability.
The Mixed Bag
Roach had a poor night as the point guard; there is not a situation where you can convince me a PG can accumulate zero assists in 29 minutes and it constitute a good performance running the point. Having said that, he made his mark in other ways. His jaw-dropping athleticism was on display not only in his two impressive dunks, but also in his made threes. When Roach has the time to rise and fire from a good base, he is incredibly hard for another guard to block, and his form is such that there’s no reason to think his 2-4 performance is an outlier. One of the players most likely to benefit from Matt Coleman’s presence next season is Roach; when he isn’t having to dissect a defense and he’s able to read & react, he can be a force.
I wish there was a way for Texas to have a hockey-style line substitution between the two ends of the court, so Banks could play the defensive end while Shaquille Cleare played the offensive end. Banks has good mobility and he’s able to make plays on the defensive end, but his offensive game is still so raw that he makes painful mistakes on a team that can ill-afford them. His choices of when to pick up a dribble (or when to dribble at all) are out of phase with the rest of the offense often enough that it derails possessions and forces other players to take poor/contested shots. It’s a fixable issue with time, and I have faith that junior Banks will not make the same mistakes freshman Banks does.
I can’t think of anything, can you? Oh, right.
Some nights, shots just don’t fall. Texas was something along the lines of 1-43 from three in the first half (give or take a couple) and it’s amazing how many of those were open threes. I hate to put this in the ‘bad’ category because it then becomes more about the outcome than the process that led to the shot. Most of their threes were reasonable choices that simply didn’t fall, sometimes that happens. In the second half, many (OK, some) of those same threes landed.
The season rolls on. Texas plays West Virginia at 6 PM CT on ESPNU, and will probably lose. But maybe they won’t; it doesn’t really hurt to be unnecessarily optimistic when you’re playing with house money. Texas is in the unlikely position of spoiler, and the Kansas Jayhawks & Iowa State Cyclones fans will root for the underdog if they show some life. Might as well give those fans a reason to cheer on the burnt orange.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by Seba.