J'Covan Brown delivered one of the best individual performances in college basketball this season, but Missouri countered with a brilliant performance from one of its own, riding Phil Pressey's 18 points, 10 assists, 0 turnovers, and 2 steals to an 84-73 win over the Longhorns in Columbia on Saturday. Texas actually played quite well for much of the game -- well enough that there is very much reason to hope that the Horns can steal an upset when the Tigers come to Austin in three weeks -- but this young Longhorns team lost the game during two critical stretches when the wheels came off and Missouri went on a run. Bill Connelly at Rock M Nation captured it perfectly:
I was actually pretty impressed by Texas for about 35 of the game's 40 minutes yesterday. They played tight man-to-man defense, they moved the ball well (even though only one player on the team could make a shot), and they showed quite a bit of the potential their recruiting rankings suggest they have. But Mizzou won because when the Tigers surge, they surge.
12:43 to 8:40, First Half: Mizzou 16, Texas 2
9:40 to 8:36, Second Half: Mizzou 7, Texas 0
In these five minutes of game action, Mizzou outscored Texas by a 23-2 margin. The rest of the game, Texas prevailed, 71-61.
That pretty much tells the tale. In part you simply have to tip your hat to Mizzou, whose veteran-laden team was ruthlessly efficient on offense. The Tigers opened up their double-digit lead by connecting on 8 of 11 first-half three-pointers, and though some of those were open looks that are on Texas' defenders, Missouri also buried several contested looks from well beyond the three-point line.
I talked a lot in the preview about my concern that this young Texas team would be undone by turnovers and transition defense, and both were at the heart of the two runs that put the game out of reach. During the 4-minute stretch in the first half when Missouri went on a 16-2 run, Texas turned the ball over 5 times in 6 possessions, which Missouri converted into 16 points on 3 three-pointers and a pair of transition lay ups. And during the 64 seconds when Missouri went on a 7-0 run in the second half, Texas turned the ball over on three straight possessions, while Pressey hit a three and Missouri converted two of those turnovers into a lay up and dunk in transition. Ball game.
In the end, the loss in Missouri was a mixture of frustrating and encouraging, with too many crippling mistakes to give us a chance to win, but enough encouraging signs to be hopeful that if this young team can tighten up its play down the stretch, it certainly is talented enough to compete for that coveted NCAA Tournament bid.
J`Covan Brown -- 38 minutes, 34 points (10-16, 6-7 3PFG, 8-8 FTs), 4 rebounds (1 OR), 2 assists, 1 turnover, 1 steal
The junior delivered another absolute masterpiece on the road, single-handedly keeping Texas in a game that easily could have gotten out of hand. Playing at about 80% because of his ankle injury, Brown finally found his stroke, connecting on 6 of 7 three pointers while doing a brilliant job of using his crafty penetration and body control to get into the lane for buckets and trips to the line. With this gem in Columbia J'Covan further cemented his status as the ultimate Road Warrior in the Rick Barnes era, and had he gotten a bit more help from his teammates he may well have led Texas to its second epic road upset in as many years, with the other coming last year in Lawrence, when JCB's 23 points in 29 minutes off the bench keyed Texas' 73-64 win that snapped KU's 69-game home winning streak. Brown is one of my top five favorite Longhorns to watch play basketball, and that's really saying something considering some of the greats that have rolled through Austin.
Myck Kabongo -- 39 minutes, 12 points (5-11, 2-2 3PFG), 10 assists, 4 turnovers, 1 steal
For the most part, Texas' freshman point guard played a strong game, just a few turnovers during key stretches separating his performance from being great. Myck looked good shooting the ball in rhythm (that stroke is way too clean for him to be shooting as badly as he has been), made a number of outstanding passes that highlight his strengths as a distributor, and did a very nice job of attacking the Tigers defense with penetration and getting to the rim for lay ups. The performance fit the pattern with Kabongo of strong performances against smaller teams, and along with continuing to get even better against teams without a lot of size, the last big step for the freshman is adjusting to teams with length on the perimeter and size on the inside, a test Kansas State will certainly provide on Wednesday night.
Sheldon McClellan -- 29 minutes, 6 points (2-8, 1-4 3PFG, 1-2 FTs), 3 rebounds (1 OR), 2 assists, 3 turnovers, 1 steal
We need better from McClellan, and with his outside shot having abandoned him the last month, he's got to improve at using his considerable skills to create scoring opportunities for himself at the rim and free throw line. Defensively he continues to make too many freshman mistakes, which I suspect is why Rick keeps giving Julien Lewis so many minutes. But as I'll discuss more here in a moment, far too often Lewis is absolutely killing us with his minutes and I'm afraid we might not get that fixed like we need to until McClellan starts sharpening the contrast by playing better on both ends of the floor. I wrote early in the season that my hunch was that McClellan seemed liked a player who was more likely to make the leap between his freshman and sophomore seasons, rather than in-season this year, and so far that's been the case. That's not really a damning knock on McClellan, but if the pattern holds it does substantially hamstring our chances to get that NCAA Tournament bid.
Jonathan Holmes -- 19 minutes, 10 points (5-6 FGs), 7 rebounds (2 OR)
I noted in the preview that I thought this was the game to re-insert Holmes into the starting line up, and Barnes apparently agreed. The freshman responded as I'd hoped he would, giving us much-needed scoring in the paint while continuing his improved rebounding. Holmes is still learning how to use body positioning on the defensive end, but he's getting better all the time, and I'd like to see Barnes give him 25 minutes a game going forward.
Clint Chapman -- 16 minutes, 6 points (3-4, 0-1 FTs), 4 rebounds (2 OR), 1 turnover, 1 steal
Damnit, Chapman. While with his minutes on the floor he validated my optimism about the kind of impact he could have on this game, ultimately Saturday's game was another appearance by Bad Chap, thanks to an inability to stay on the floor due to foul trouble. Chapman was the victim of an atrocious blocking call on his third foul which sent him back to the bench early in the second half, but both of the two fouls in the first four minutes of the first half were Chapman's fault, including a dumb decision to try and take a charge in transition, which the official correctly whistled a blocking foul. Although the minutes he played were encouraging, it doesn't do us any good if he can't stay on the floor.
Julien Lewis -- 32 minutes, 2 points (1-10, 0-3 3PFG), 5 rebounds (1 OR), 1 assist, 2 turnovers
I noted in the game preview that I think Lewis as a primary offensive weapon is fool's gold, and the trigger-happy freshman once again had me yelling at my television, delivering a maddeningly inefficient and counter-productive performance that was as much a reason for the loss as any other single factor, punctuated with an exclamation mark with Lewis's lazy midcourt pass that Pressey intercepted and took the distance for a dunk that extended Mizzou's lead to 69-57 and effectively ended our comeback bid. As I've said many times now, I have no problem with Lewis shooting the ball from open looks created by us running our offense, but we absolutely do not want -- and cannot have -- Lewis wildly trying to create his own offense and throwing up low-percentage shots. Lewis is playing like the only player who can create his own shot a terrible mid-major team, except that he's at best the fifth-best option on a team with lots of ways to create good scoring opportunities.
If we're going to have someone penetrate one-on-one in lieu of running set offense, we have J'Covan Brown, who is brilliant in that regard. We also have Myck Kabongo, who is quicker, a better passer, and better able to get all the way to the rim for a lay up. We also have a viable half court offense that we run quite well, and that produces lots of quality looks out of set plays. And finally, even if we didn't have all that, we have Sheldon McClellan, and if we're going to abandon everything else and have one of our raw freshmen try to create his own offense, McClellan is exponentially better equipped to do so productively. As I said above, in part the solution here has to come from improved play by McClellan, but in the meantime, Lewis's play has reached the point where part of the responsibility is on the coaching staff to intervene. If Lewis can play good defense and contribute offensively by being a complementary role player to the rest of our offense, then great, that'll work just fine. But if Lewis is going to repeatedly waste possessions by abandoning our better options and wind up taking 10+ shots per game, he can't play. We just can't have that. It's killing us, and he's got to learn how to play within what we do well, or it's not worth playing him.
Alexis Wangmene -- 17 minutes, 3 points (1-3, 1-3 FTs), 5 rebounds (4 OR), 1 turnover
The senior played hard and for the second straight game had a really nice and-one, but he was a liability on defense and we suffered when Chapman went to the bench with two fouls.
Jaylen Bond -- 9 minutes, 0 points (0-1), 1 rebound (1 OR), 1 assist, 1 block, 1 steal
Bond again looked overwhelmed against top-level talent, and we're just not getting enough value from his minutes for him to be more than a small role player right now. There's still plenty of potential for him to develop into a valuable collegiate forward, but he's not there yet, and he's getting swallowed whole by the level of play in this conference.
Sterling Gibbs -- 1 minute, 1 turnover
Gibbs reminded us why he's relegated to limited back up duty with a horrific turnover that helped sparked Missouri's huge first-half run, returning Gibbs to the bench a minute after he subbed in, where he remained the rest of the game.
All in all, we pretty much lost for exactly the reasons that I figured would hold us back. In that respect, it's far from the worst kind of loss, mostly confirming both where we are and what must be done if we're to close out the season as we need to in order to get to 10 conference wins. There were legitimately encouraging performances, and the potential for this team as it gains experience is clear and exciting. On the downside, it's very much unclear whether we're going to be able to improve enough, quickly enough, to get those 8 more conference wins.
Texas' next test comes on Wednesday night in Manhattan, where they'll face a Kansas State team that is not nearly as skilled as this Missouri team, but which will test Texas in a different, but equally challenging for this team, way -- with a big, physical team and imposing frontcourt.