Game Recap: If you missed last night’s 81-66 loss in College Station, consider yourself lucky. There was nothing remarkable or new about this loss. We’ve seen this inconsistency before. The Texas Longhorns (17-8, 6-5) fell flat on offense but more importantly didn’t show up on defense.
Instead of the typical game review, let’s take a look at the four Keys to the Game and how Texas failed in each of them.
(1) Don’t settle and attack the rim. This is the same key as we had for the Colorado game. The Aggies are not a good defensive team but Texas is not a good (other than Abrams) outside shooting team. The Longhorns need to attack the basket, get to the free throw line, and get the Aggies into foul trouble. At least 20 trips to the line would be a good indicator of offensive aggressiveness. Two players to watch in this regard are Damion James and Gary Johnson. They are at their best when scoring in the paint and at their worst when settling for contested, mid-range jumpers.
On this Key, the Longhorns did well in spots but overall still fell short. Texas ended up with 19 free throw attempts to the Aggies 21. I guess I should have pointed out that Texas needed to not just get to the line but also sink their free throws. The dreadful season long free throw struggles continued as Texas sank just 12-of-19 for 63%. Some of the calls which put each team at the line may have been questionable but the advantage goes to the team that capitalizes. A&M shot 85% from the line as a team. Clearly advantage Aggies.
In regards to Johnson and James, Gary was aggressive all game long and his 17 points and five boards in just 24 minutes is nothing to scoff at. However, GJ must find a way to stay out of foul trouble. At 6-6ish, it is going to be difficult to get off shots inside but lowering your shoulder to create contact against taller defenders isn’t going to work. Johnson will be a real threat next year when he learns how to finish over his right shoulder with his back to the basket and when stops forcing so much on offense. Yeah, this season there aren’t a lot of scorers to kick the ball to but next year there will be. If he adds passing to his game, he can take his game to the next level.
Damion was bi-polar last night. He sank a jump shot, which I didn’t see because ESPN was interviewing DeJuan Blair (beast), in the first twenty seconds of the game and then didn’t score again until the second half. Our future NBA swingman, if he can add some handles, in a tough road environment completely disappeared for the rest of the first half. Overall, 16 points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes is a really good game. Rick Barnes just needed more from DaMo in the first half, especially late in the first half with Dogus Balbay sitting after picking up two fouls. The way things are going Damion may very well be back in burnt orange next year. He certainly can make the jump to the next level after this season, but now would be a great time to start playing like a pro from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
(2) Locate Josh Carter in the half court. Carter is a streaky shooter who can easily hit four or five three-pointers in a game. If Balbay and the Texas offense do their thing, like they have in each of the last two games, then A&M will need a few threes to go down to win the game. Rick Barnes can live with Donald Sloan or Derrick Roland getting open looks from three. It will be deadly for the ‘Horns if Carter is allowed open catch-and-shoot jumpers.
Well, Carter didn’t single handedly kill the Longhorns’ chances on Monday night but his three three-pointers hurt badly. Add those makes to BJ Holmes three-for-three performance from behind the arc and the Aggies had more than enough perimeter firepower to run away from the Longhorns. How do we lose Carter in the half court? I still have no idea.
By the way, Dogus and the Texas offense did do their thing last night, when he was on the floor. When Balbay sat with foul trouble, Texas looked lost. When Dogus was in the game, the Texas offense was effective enough to win on the road. Balbay attacked the rim nicely, Johnson was also aggressive going to the basket, and Dexter Pittman was not able to be checked with a single Aggie defender.
(3) Play D without fouling. Kansas State shot 35 free throws in their win in Austin, Missouri shot 19 in their win, Nebraska shot 14 in a slower game, Oklahoma State shot 25, and Colorado shot 29 on Saturday. Texas is not a deep team and cannot afford to get in foul trouble, nor can they afford to give opponents easy points at the line. The defense is not playing at the same level it was in November and December and part of the reason why is the increase in fouls. This is a huge key to the game as the Aggies score nearly a quarter of their points from the line, 13th most in the country. Texas will need to overcome and play through some home-court calls to win in College Station.Epic fail. Texas did get in foul trouble, and it cost them dearly. According to Pomeroy’s game plan stats, our trip to College Station produced the Longhorns’ worst defensive performance of the season! A&M shot the ball well, protected the ball, and scored with ease. By the end of the game, Pittman and Balbay had both fouled out, Gary missed minutes because of foul trouble, and Connor Atchley was even more missing than normal, as he too sat next to Rick for most of the evening.
(4) Control the Defensive Glass. Texas A&M is a good but not great offensive rebounding team. However, they have grabbing offensive rebounds at a higher rate recently and still losing. If Texas keeps Elonu and Davis off the glass, then the Longhorns will have a very good shot at pulling off the upset.
In 25 games, only Texas Southern was more effective against the ‘Horns on the offensive glass than the Aggies were last night. Nearly half of the Aggies 31 total rebounds came on the offensive end. It is easy to point out that Texas grabbed 18 offensive rebounds of its own. I have no problem with our work on the offensive glass. My issue is with Texas’ ability to limit second looks and keep bigs from picking up cheap fouls under the basket. Part of this is the small Texas lineup and part of this is energy.
Where do the ‘Horns go from here?
The good news is Texas gets to play at home on Saturday night. The bad news is #2 Oklahoma, a team that destroyed the Longhorns a few weeks ago, will be their opponent. Texas now sits at 6-5 in the conference, tied for fourth place with Kansas State. The Wildcats of course hold the tiebreaker with Texas thanks to their OT victory in Austin. After the debacle in Lincoln, I set a new goal of finishing in the top four in the Big XII and earning a bye in the conference tournament. However, after comparing KSU’s schedule the rest of the way with ours, I’m not sure that is possible any longer. Texas probably needs to just focus on winning three of the next five, finishing above .500 in the conference, and securing an NCAA berth.
The Oklahoma game is HUGE. As silly and odd as it sounds after getting beat by 15, a win over OU would put Texas in the NCAA tournament. How do we do that? Basically, do the opposite of what just happened in College Station. On defense, locate shooters in the half court (Austin Johnson and Tony Crocker), stay out of foul trouble (this means you Dex), limit the Sooner’s second chance opportunities (Mason and Connor play big), and get back on defense. On offense, attack gimmicky defenses and finish at the rim (Dogus Balbay and Mason), run a team-first, not an AJ-centric offense, feed the post (Pittman), and keep the crowd in the game (no offensive lulls). No problem, right?
NEXT GAME: HOME vs. Oklahoma – Saturday 2/21 8:00 p.m. ESPN