It was largely an ugly affair, but the Texas Longhorns basketball team (13-7, 3-4) took care of business at home, closing out a must-win game over Iowa State (14-6, 4-3) on a defensive steal and lay up reminiscent of the Longhorns' last possession in a loss at Kansas State a week ago. Myck Kabongo rebounded from his no-show on Saturday to deliver 37 solid minutes and the game-sealing steal and lay up, as the Longhorns defeated the Cyclones 62-55 in Austin on Tuesday night.
Although Iowa State closed in on Texas late in the game, the Longhorns actually opened up an 18-point lead with 13:38 to play, after their 16-3 run to start the second half extended a 28-22 halftime lead to 44-26. But the Cyclones kept chipping away at that lead as Texas kept turning the ball over -- including a brutal six-minute stretch featuring 8 turnovers. In the end, though, it was the Longhorns defensive effort that provided the difference in the game, as Texas held Iowa State to 33% shooting overall and just 5 of 21 from downtown; when the two teams met in Ames three weeks ago, the Cyclones went 10 for 21 from beyond the arc.
If you're finding yourself confused trying to make sense of the performances of the individuals on this Texas team, you're not alone. It's been difficult to talk definitively about these freshmen because the only thing they've done consistently is be inconsistent. Kabongo plays strong basketball at Missouri and K-State, then completely disappears against Kansas, then plays very solidly tonight against Iowa State. Jaylen Bond looks completely lost against Kansas State, then provides valuable minutes against Kansas and Iowa State. Julien Lewis makes me want him to transfer with his play in one game, then rebounds with a performance like his home games against A&M and Iowa State. And that's to say nothing of the variance in the play of these freshmen intra-game half the time.
Then again, this is largely how we expected it to go, and though I had hoped we might manage to open Big 12 play 3-0 to make going 1-5 during this brutal six-game stretch less painful, as is we're in a position where we're a home win over Missouri away from being in the same place. After the way we challenged in our first three games of this stretch, that's not an unrealistic hope, and we're still left hoping this team can enter February ready to close strong.
The key tonight was Kabongo's solid performance, which seemed to recharge his confidence as the game went on. He had a couple costly defensive lapses in the first half, but he shot the ball very well in rhythm throughout and produced a lot of value without being nearly as assertive as I'd like him to be. He's still thinking too much out there, but this was an encouraging performance in terms of settling into a rhythm.
Although not as dominant as in Ames, Clint Chapman was again very solid against the Cyclones (8 points, 5 boards, 3 blocks), while both Alexis Wangmene (6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 1 steal) and Jaylen Bond (4 points, 7 rebounds, 1 outstanding steal on a hustle play in transition) gave us valuable minutes battling Royce White, probably the Big 12's toughest individual match up. And Julien Lewis delivered his best game in weeks, as well, scoring 12 points and grabbing 7 big rebounds.
All in all, it was the kind of game you have to be happy for this young team to win at home, and the goal is for these guys to be able to win that way on the road against middle- to lower-tier competition. We're definitely capable of better play in Austin, but if we can pick up wins in Norman, College Station, and Stillwater with the kind of game we got tonight, that'll work just fine in helping to get us to 10 wins.
Texas has two brutal games to go before the calendar turns and the team enters the crucial back stretch of the schedule in February, and if we win one of those contests we'll be in solid shape. Right now we're leaning too much on J'Covan Brown offensively, but it's a product of necessity with neither Kabongo nor McClellan playing consistently enough to justify not trying to ride our best offensive player. To reach our potential this season we need those freshmen to be better, but in the meantime, save your complaints about JCB shooting it too much. He's doing a hell of a job trying to keep this thing going without any other guard he can consistently count on to help shoulder the load.
Next up: Texas travels to Baylor on Saturday, then closes this brutal six-game stretch hosting Missouri next Wednesday.