Game Recap: The #17 Texas Longhorns (15-7, 4-4) are still bailing water. Rick Barnes’ club dropped their third straight game for the first time since the 2004-05 season which was disrupted by Lamarcus Aldridge’s injury and PJ Tucket’s ineligibility. This team has no such excuses. The parts are all there but they have yet to find any cohesion.
The 58-55 loss drops the Longhorns to just .500 in the conference a half game out of a tie for fourth place. ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi can have us as a #7 seed in the NCAA tournament right now, but even he would admit that we are trending sharply away from the a berth in the Big Dance.
Earlier this week, PB proposed that Texas try to really be two different basketball teams based on whether or not Dexter Pittman was on the floor. We weren’t sure this was even possible and less sure this was possible to achieve this late in the season. Well, for the first twenty minutes in Lincoln, the ‘Horns did just that.
With Dexter on the floor, Texas sat in a 2-3 zone, to protect Pittman from foul trouble, on defense and pounded the ball inside on offense. Other than a couple of possessions where Nebraska picked apart our 2-3 with some crisp ball movement, the defensive strategy worked. On offense, the Longhorns were more than adequate as well. Damion James and Dexter Pittman owned the paint and the offensive glass against the smaller Husker defenders. Had Texas made a few more shots or turned the ball over less their seven point lead would have easily been double digits.
The beginning of the second half could not have been better. Texas scored the first five points and jumped quickly to a 34-22 lead, their biggest of the game. The Longhorns appeared to be in control: they were executing offensively and not settling for perimeter jumpers, they were protecting the basketball, and they were playing solid defense without fouling. All that changed over the last 17 minutes of the game, and it was fatal to the Longhorns.
In the next five minutes, Texas scored zero points and turned the ball over four times (Gary Johnson, Connor Atchley, Connor Atchley, and Justin Mason). The Longhorns barely took shots, as they couldn’t hold onto the ball long enough, and the 12 point lead was cut to just four. Game on.
The Longhorns extended the lead back to 10, at 42-32, after a James offensive rebound and one, a AJ Abrams three point jumper, and a couple of Johnson free throws. Again it was not to be. In the next five possessions, the Longhorns jacked four three-pointers and another perimeter jumper, making just one-of-five. The ten point lead was gone in a matter of minutes, and the Huskers sank a three of their own to lead, 46-45.
With Texas leading, 50-48, and just under three minutes left in the game, it was Nebraska that showed up and knocked down jumpers to win the game. The Huskers went three-of-three from the field, including two deep three-pointers, and made two-of-four free throws. The Longhorns did get a three-pointer from Abrams to cut the lead to 56-55 but never regained the lead as AJ dribbled mindlessly against three Nebraska defenders and then threw up an ugly, contested three-pointer.
The outcome was: Maddening. I don’t know what else to say. This Texas team, despite not having a true point guard, still has four veteran starters, a decent bench, and a seasoned head coach, yet we have now dropped three straight all to teams that the Longhorns should have defeated. After an elating win at Baylor just two weeks ago, expectations were raised and this team appeared to have turned a corner: Dogus Balbay was finding his rhythm, Abrams was playing within a team offensively, Pittman and Johnson were providing scoring punches in the paint, James was becoming less reliant on his jumper to score, and the defense was still consistent to excellent. After three straight losses, everyone seems to have taken a step or two backwards. Balbay isn’t executing what Rick wants, selfish AJ shows up at the most inopportune times, Pittman can’t stay out of foul trouble, Johnson forces the action too often, James plays like Ray Allen on the perimeter, and turnovers severely damper an already limited offensive attack.
Stats of the Game: Texas 16 turnovers. Rebounds 34-30 Texas. The turnovers were absolutely killer. As usual, Texas got off to a slow start. The Longhorns had five turnovers before the first television timeout, and it didn’t get much better from there. It is hard enough for this Texas team to score points without giving away possession with turnovers.
And rebounding. Nebraska doesn’t start a player taller than 6-5. Our freaking starting small forward is taller that. Sure, we did end up outrebounding Nebraska but the Huskers grabbed more rebounds in the second half. How is that possible? Rebounding is about size, strength, and position, but it is also about effort. That effort was lacking in Lincoln yesterday. Nebraska snagged 11 offensive rebounds, many of which came off long rebounds or 50/50 balls. Not to sound like a broken record, however, our offensive is so poor that limiting second looks and protecting the basketball are critical to the Longhorns’ success. On Saturday, Texas failed in both areas.
The Offensive MVP was: Not applicable. Please don’t say AJ Abrams with 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting (4-of-8 from three). His forced three-pointer in the next to last possession completely eliminates him from consideration.
Don’t say Damion James either. DaMo did have a double-double with 13 points and 12 boards. However, he was a pathetic 5-of-14 from the field and too often relied on perimeter jumps when he should have been attacking the paint as much as possible. In fact, Damion had two offensive rebounds which resulted in lay ups and a free throw. So, if you take away those two buckets in the paint, Damion has just 3-of-12 from the field. Better teams might be able to overcome their star player shooting 25% from the field but this Texas team cannot.
The Defensive MVP was: None. Our half court defense was not bad nor spectacular and no one player stood out to me on the defensive end.
Three Things: (1) The Pittman Dilemma. To me, this says it all, from the Austin American Statesman:
"There were times when we tried to build things through him, but he was getting in foul trouble and averaging just 12, 13, 14 minutes a game," Barnes said. "It's hard to build through a guy doing that. But if he could give us 24, 25 minutes a night, it changes a lot."That was Rick Barnes before the Nebraska game. Let’s look at Pittman’s line: seven points (3-of-4), six rebounds, one turnover, and four fouls in 13 minutes. Unless Pittman is able to stay out of foul trouble, which seems unlikely anytime Texas plays man with him on the floor, then Texas must change their offensive philosophy. PB talked about this in the Texas Basketball report: our offensive is so inefficient in the half court that playing full court with five great athletes on the floor is probably our best bet for this season. We’ll see on Tuesday night if Rick is seeing things like we see them.
(2) Tuesday night is a MUST WIN. Texas now sits at just 4-4 in conference play at the halfway point. Even with our strong non-conference schedule, 7-9 in conference will not get Texas into the Dance. 8-8 may not get the ‘Horns in either. So, we set our sights on 9-7 in Big XII play. We need five wins in the next eight games, and here is how we get there. Must wins—Oklahoma State, at Colorado, Texas Tech, and Baylor; Toss Ups—Oklahoma, at Texas A&M. Not likely—at Oklahoma State and at Kansas. Do you see five wins in there? It’s possible…
NEXT GAME: Home vs. Oklahoma State – Tuesday 2/10 7:00 p.m. Big 12 Network (formerly ESPN+)