Despite shooting just 30% from the floor, the Texas Longhorns (11-4, 1-1) closed out Oklahoma State (8-7, 1-1) with a 26-14 run to end the game, picking up a 58-49 win over the Cowboys in a must-win game. Freshmen Myck Kabongo and Jonathan Holmes both played their strongest games in weeks, while the Longhorns as a whole executed in the three phases of the game that Rick Barnes emphasized before Saturday night's contest: defending the paint, clearing the defensive glass, and taking care of the ball.
"I thought we might have some trouble shooting the ball tonight because we worked the kids hard after Iowa State on having the right mindset in terms of the three things we wanted them to do," Barnes said after the game. "I told them that if we took care of those things we could win the game even if we don't score the ball well. Defense travels. You can win games on a tough offensive night if you're defending and taking care of the basketball."
On a night when J`Covan Brown was very limited in terms of what he could offer offensively and the team as a whole struggled shooting the ball, Texas gutted out the win by succeeding in exactly those three areas. The Longhorns held OSU to 40% shooting on the game (13-31 on 2PFGs and 6-16 from downtown), they allowed the Cowboys only 9 offensive boards on their 28 misses, and they absolutely dominated the turnover battle, turning it over just 10 times while forcing the Cowboys into 21.
It's awfully difficult to win a game in which you shoot the ball 30%, but Texas did all the other things they had to do in order to get it done. To be sure, this one wasn't pretty, but you have to be proud of these kids for doing what it takes to grind out a win like that. And more importantly, this was a game we absolutely had to win. There's no such thing as a bad win in the Big 12, and this is no exception.
Myck Kabongo -- 31 minutes, 15 points (3-8, 1-4 3PFG, 8-12 FTs), 3 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 turnover, 1 steal
On a night when J`Covan just didn't have that much to offer, Kabongo stepped up his game and was the team's MVP, delivering his strongest performance since the Temple game three weeks ago. Rick Barnes really wanted us to push the tempo and attack OSU's depleted roster, and Kabongo did a really nice job of setting that tone, with an overall floor game that was very strong in what was a very choppy and physical game. Even when we weren't shooting the ball well, we were racking up fouls and free throw attempts, and Kabongo was the biggest reason for that. Texas finished the game 19-29 from the charity stripe, as compared to 5-11 for OSU, and there's your difference on the scoreboard.
J`Covan Brown -- 26 minutes, 6 points (2-5, 1-2 3PFG, 1-2 FTs), 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 2 steals
Brown's mobility was visibly limited throughout an exceptionally quiet and uninvolved first half, and it looked like he wouldn't return to the game for the second half when Texas opened the period with Julien Lewis and Brown stayed in his warm ups for the first 10 minutes of the half. But when Keiton Page hit a three-pointer to put OSU up 35-32, their first lead since early in the first half, Brown hobbled off the bench ad checked in. Texas immediately went on an 8-2 run, the last three of which came from J`Covan who ended Texas' 0-13 drought from beyond the arc with an incredible three pointer -- incredible because Brown's ankle was so tender that he landed his jump shot on his left foot only, to avoid putting any pressure on his injured right ankle. Next time you're out shooting hoops, try to shoot a long jumper while landing on one foot; it's incredibly difficult to get the follow through and maintain the body balance you need. Brown's return to the game on an injured ankle seemed to spark his teammates, and from the moment he returned Texas closed the game on a 26-14 run, turning a three point deficit into a 9-point win. Gutty stuff from the junior and leader of this team.
Jonathan Holmes -- 21 minutes, 11 points (4-5, 0-1 3PFG, 3-4 FTs), 4 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 2 blocks, 2 steals
After getting a little bit lost in the shuffle over the last month, Holmes played his best basketball since November, showing off his impressive range of skills and ability. He battled on the glass, played excellent defense, and made an incredibly athletic and skilled play in poking away a steal, chasing down the loose ball, and converting it into a lay up in transition.
Clint Chapman -- 22 minutes, 3 points (1-6, 1-1 FTs), 3 rebounds, 1 turnover, 1 block
Fool's gold in Ames? Yeah, pretty much, not that Chapman being a double-double guy was really the recipe for success this year. Still, we've talked a lot about consistency with Chapman, and he's still having games where he struggles to make an impact. To his credit, Chappy played hard defensively and made a couple really nice plays that helped us win, but he was soft and unimpressive offensively tonight, avoiding contact and failing to take it at OSU. Long-time readers of this blog will no doubt remember Good Connor/Bad Connor. It's time for Good Chap/Bad Chap.
Sheldon McClellan -- 21 minutes, 6 points (2-11, 0-3 3PFG, 2-2 FTs), 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 1 block, 2 steals
At some point Rick got displeased with McClellan's defense and benched him for a pretty substantial stretch, but I thought McClellan played pretty solidly overall, despite struggling along with everyone else from the outside. He's at his best when he's using his athleticism to get to the rim where he can finish or draw fouls, but he's still learning how to pick his spots and is still just scratching the surface of what he's ultimately capable of at the college level.
Jaylen Bond -- 22 minutes, 0 points (0-4, 0-1 3PFG, 0-2 FTs), 9 rebounds 1 turnover, 1 block, 3 steals
Bond looked awful any time he shot the ball, but he did a nice job working hard to produce a lot of value in other ways. I think he can be pretty helpful to this team if we continue to try and be an up-tempo team that wants to score in transition, and I hope he shakes his head when he watches the film and sees how dumb it was for him to pass the ball on the fast break. You're a great open court player, Jaylen. Get after it. Save your selectivity for halfcourt sets.
Julien Lewis -- 31 minutes, 9 points (4-15, 1-5 3PFG, 0-0 FTs), 6 rebounds, 1 turnover, 1 steal
On the one hand, Lewis kept battling and broke through with a couple second half buckets that really helped us lock up the win. On the other, Lewis has been playing absolutely terrible offensive basketball for over a month now, and those big buckets down the stretch excepted, that was largely the case tonight. Look, I have absolutely no problem with Lewis taking quality, open shots within the offense. But if we're in a situation where we're looking for someone to create offense, Lewis is way, way down the list on this team. He's shooting it as indiscriminately as Jordan Hamilton was as a freshman, except he's not nearly as good a shooter. I like Lewis's skills, but man I'm going to lose my mind if he winds up with the second-most field goal attempts on this team, as he currently is.
Alexis Wangmene - 14 minutes, 7 points (2-4, 3-4 FTs), 3 rebounds, 1 turnover
Lexi's minutes were limited by a tweaked knee in the second half, but until the injury he too played his best game in a while, swishing a pretty 12-footer and getting to the line. Lexi is Lexi, but it was nice to see him chip in valuably in a game when Brown was limited and Bad Chapman showed up.
Sterling GIbbs -- 12 minutes, 1 point (0-2, 0-2 3PFG, 1-2 FTs), 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 turnover
He didn't contribute much tonight, but he's improved as much as anyone on the team, to the point where if the disparity in defense wasn't so large, there'd be a real question as to whether he should share more of Julien Lewis's minutes out there. I feel a whole lot more comfortable when Gibbs is in the game than I expected to early in the season.
All in all, we'll take it. We got a look at what this team would be like if we didn't have J'Covan Brown, and the result isn't exactly a great team, but these kids have come a long way since East Rutheford, and this was a game we absolutely couldn't afford to lose. In the Big 12 a win is a win is a win, and if we take care of business at home on Wednesday versus A&M (8:00 pm CT, ESPN2), we'll still be in contention for the 10 wins we're aiming for this conference season.