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Shooting From the Corner: Texas 76, Oklahoma State 64

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 15 Texas at Oklahoma State Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Texas has its first notable road win since Purdue, beating Oklahoma State 76-64 in an affair that reminded the world it’s possible to have an entertaining game even if the teams involved aren’t exactly world-beaters. Both squads understood the importance of this game; for Texas it was important to show they could win on the road, for Oklahoma State this was the last chance for them to keep the season from going completely off the rails. Both teams fought hard, albeit very imperfectly; it was sort of like watching a pair of home-schooled tweens face off for the right to keep playing Fortnite on the only Xbox in the house. There were extended sections of hair-pulling and wheezing as they took breaks to hit their inhalers while the parents were in the other room knocking back a box of wine, but they both really wanted to win. Tonight, Texas was the victorious home-schooler. I’m sure he got a lot of high-fives from his stuffed toys when he got back home.

I make jokes, but this is the first positive sign that Texas might be figuring some things out. It’s a small sign, but these are the sorts of games that separate an 11-win season from being on the bubble. Considering how many of us felt after the Baylor game, a road win against literally any of the Big 12 teams is a data point in the positive. It’s a small data point that needs to be backed up by other data points, but a data point nonetheless.

The Good

Kamaka Hepa

So that’s what it’s like to have a real stretch four.

Hepa’s shirt was basically rust-colored at the end of the game due to the effort he gave tonight. Trainers were working on his legs, which is understandable considering he played 21 minutes in non-conference and has played 24+ minutes in three of the last four games. Hepa is talkative on defense, puts effort into rebounding, and is now shooting 47% from three (8-17) in conference play. We’re less than a quarter through conference play so small sample size caveats abound, but Kamaka Hepa has the highest O-Rating and eFG% in the Big 12 right now. Have I mentioned he dunked twice on Oklahoma State? Any team who gets dunked on twice by Hepa in a single game should be eligible for relegation. Congratulations, Cowboys, you’re now in the Atlantic Sun. Hepa has things to work on (strength and defensive anticipation most notably) but he’s brought energy to the lineup and the ball never sticks with him on the offensive end. It’s going up or it’s going around the horn, he doesn’t spend five seconds staring at the court deciding his next move.

Courtney Ramey

Sometimes having the biggest balls on the court pays off, and tonight it did for Ramey. Courtney has never been one to shy away from the big moment, but he’s had other much, much smaller moments which have cause major issues for the team this season. Tonight Ramey was on the right side of the ledger; hitting big threes, grabbing 9 rebounds, and dishing out a team-leading 6 assists. Ramey is up to nearly 48% from three in conference play and he had the right kind of intensity tonight. When Ramey is playing within himself and within the offense, he can help the team in a lot of ways.

Jase Febres

Febres was uncommonly efficient on the night, going 5-9 from the floor and 3-6 from deep, but I want to highlight a couple other areas of his game. Febres blocked a shot tonight - it wasn’t credited to him, but he did - and he’s been putting together his own personal block party the last three games. He’s up to six (including the one that should be his) and he’s executing on the defensive end better this year. He won’t ever be confused for Jevon Carter, but the defensive effort he’s put together this year shows significant growth from the young man.

Also there was this monster dunk:

That was supposed to happen at the end of the first half in Lawrence last year. :(

Blocks

Texas had 11 blocks tonight, which means 23% of the Oklahoma State possessions ended with a Texas player stuffing their shot. There are two things I want to highlight here:

  1. It was a group effort, not one guy going full Bamba
  2. The defense played in such a way that the Cowboys weren’t able to capitalize on this and either get the defenders off the ground (and into foul trouble) or pass the ball out of the situation to take advantage of the block attempts.

The thing about blocks is that they’re sexy and they make highlight reels, but they’re also prone to allow putbacks and for good offenses to punish the aggression with pump fakes and feeding secondary options. Texas did a good job of generating blocks within the flow of the offense rather than because of over-aggression, and that’s a good sign of something that is perhaps somewhat sustainable going forward. I don’t want any player falling in love with the block because it opens up defensive vulnerabilities for a high-risk move; tonight was the right kind of block party, and organic one. You know, like when your neighbors decide to throw an impromptu barbecue in the street, not like when Kanye’s squad shuts down your neighborhood to blow up an Instagram feed. One leads to more cohesive play, the other to clogged sewers and helicopters landing in somebody’s pool.

It’s Complicated

Andrew Jones

When Andrew Jones runs the point, the offense dies. He is not a natural creator, and he is too timid with the ball when other options present themselves. There were at least a couple of times Jericho Sims was posted up in the low block that Jones looked at him and didn’t even attempt the feed, there were a couple other times when the shot clock dropped below 10 and Jones was still dribbling on the perimeter. Peak Andrew Jones can create his own shot, but he isn’t back to his peak yet. He needs to understand this and feed the guys who are executing the offense. And yet, he was 2-4 from two, 2-4 from three, and 4-5 from the line, while attempting game defense against players who significantly outweighed him. I am looking forward to him next November when he’s had another year to build his strength and explosiveness.

Kai Jones

Kai was responsible for five blocks, at least a couple of which were due to his incredible length and athleticism. Kai was also responsible for two offensive fouls, both of which were due to him doing dumb freshman things in transition. If he can clean up the latter, the former presents a tantalizing prospect. I do not question his effort, but his execution is highly variable.

The Bad

Guards Against the Press

As they got down, Oklahoma State started pressuring the ball in the full court and sending traps after made baskets. Sometimes this went fine, other times....not so much. Here’s the thing; there are a handful of rules when you’re battling the press, the most salient of which is to NEVER BACK UP WHEN THE TRAP IS COMING. Time is not your ally, and increasing the distance between you and the half-court line is not helping the situation unless you’re significantly faster than the defenders. Ramey got caught on the sideline and wisely called a timeout, but others were either slowly bringing the ball up the court under the mistaken impression the trap wasn’t coming or they were backing up when alternate options presented themselves. Texas is usually better against the press than this - and frankly, few teams in this conference press this year so it’s a limited problem - but I would like to see these guards handle it better.

Texas is now 2-2 in conference play, and their reward is a game Saturday against Kansas in Austin. The Jayhawks should be significant favorites, but if Devon Dotson is still out it might be a chance for the Longhorns to spring a major upset. I do not think this is a likely outcome, but Kansas relying on Marcus Garrett to run the point does shift things slightly towards Texas. Call them a 30% win probability instead of 22%. Tip is 1 PM CT on ESPN.

BWG’s writing tunes provided by Balthazar & Blackrock.