The Texas Longhorns notched a critical victory today, beating the No. 8 ranked Iowa State Cyclones 86-79. Jonathan Holmes was brilliant, scoring 23 points, and taking over the game during a key stretch in the second half.
Rick Barnes' squad took the lead for good with 14:46 remaining in the second half, when Holmes beat his man and made a layup to put Texas up 45-44. But Holmes was just getting warmed up. During the next two minutes, the junior forward from San Antonio would score four more points, before Cyclone coach Fred Hoiberg called a time out to stop the bleeding.
But during this critical stretch of the game, it was more than just the play of Holmes that helped the Horns take control. Texas' defense tightened up, as Iowa State was held scoreless for more than five minutes. The Texas defense was disruptive; Iowa State ended the game with a season high 17 turnovers, while Texas only turned the ball over eight times.
For Iowa State, DeAndre Kane could just never get going. The senior guard scored 15 points, but they were mostly empty points, as Kane needed 12 shots from the field and 10 free throw attempts to get them. Demarcus Holland had a quiet game on the offensive end of the floor, scoring only a single basket, but he was a little less quiet on D. Holland guarded Kane most of the game, holding up well against the physical Cyclone. Holland's disruptive presence on defense was critical in slowing the powerful Iowa State offense.
Texas center Cameron Ridley had an excellent afternoon as well. Ridley had a difficult defensive assignment, having to check the gifted Iowa State scorer Georges Niang for much of the game. Niang got his points, scoring 18, but Ridley at least limited the damage. Ridley was active defensively, blocking five shots and grabbing seven defensive rebounds. And Ridley got Niang back on the other end of the court, scoring 16 points of his own. Ridley got his points in part by going to the offensive glass, where he got to four offensive rebounds.
Ridley runs the floor exceptionally well for someone who is a large human being. The best illustration of this was a score that took place early in the first half. Ridley blocked a Kane shot, which started a fast break. Trailing the fast break, Ridley grabbed the offensive rebound and put it back for two when Demarcus Holland missed a shot at the rim. A running game works best when the big men commit to it, and Ridley is fully on board with the up-tempo style of Rick Barnes' team. Cameron Ridley barreling down the floor at full speed is just something most teams won't have an answer for. In transition, Ridley is agile and terrifying.
But things weren't always so wide open. In the first half, the Iowa State defense stiffled the Texas offense, shutting down penetration and forcing Texas to take contested jumpers. Texas missed many of these jumpers, and Iowa State controlled the defensive glass. This is the usual Cyclone formula, and is a large reason why Fred Hoiberg's team has started off this season so well. But the Longhorns stayed close as Iowa State struggled with turnovers; some of this was due to the Texas defensive pressure, while some was surely self-inflicted.
Still, the game did open up -- mostly for the Longhorns -- in the second half. And then Texas sealed the victory down the stretch, protecting the rock and hitting free throws. Rick Barnes' team was 24-31 from the free throw line; the transformation of Cameron Ridley's free throw shooting in particular has been remarkable.
Of course, part of the story for this game will be about the "slide" of Iowa State. The Cyclones are on a three game losing streak, but such is life in the Big 12. A game against Kansas sandwiched in between two road games against quality opponents (Oklahoma and Texas) is the sort of thing that leads to a three game losing streak. Iowa State will get its chances to pick up plenty of conference wins as the season wears on.
For the Texas Longhorns, this win helps move them towards their goal of getting back into the NCAA tournament. It was a hell of a victory against a strong opponent.