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Horns' Defense Still MIA, Fall 100-82

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As expected, the #25 Horns (16-7, 6-3) dropped their second game in row, losing to #8 A&M (20-3, 8-1), 100-82. Even though winning in College Station wasn't likely, this one is still disappointing. For the first three quarters of the game, Texas executed their game plan beautifully. With the pace in our favor, the Horns were attacking the rim, drawing fouls, and knocking down their free throws. Texas led 58-57 with about thirteen minutes left in the contest and was down just four points with seven minutes to go. It was not to be, though. A&M began to dominate in the paint and grabbed countless offensive rebounds on one end while Texas went cold from the line and from the floor at the other. Texas was outscored 24-10 over the final 7:30.

I am not in the mood for a full game write up, but here are a few brief thoughts.

Keys to the Loss
Texas simply couldn't get stops. The Aggies shot 50% from the floor and nearly 50% from the behind the arc. Kavaliauskas and reserve Bryan Davis dominated the paint in the second half and Josh Carter and Acie Law bombed away from three. Texas also had trouble stopping dribble penetration all night long. Law had an outstanding game (21 points, 15 assists) and constantly put pressure on the Texas defense by getting into the lane off the dribble.

Missed Free Throws. Texas effectively attacked the Aggie defense on every possession in the first half and were rewarded with 21 free throw attempts. The Horns made 20-of-21 in the first half while putting every Aggie starter but Law in foul trouble. The second half was a different story, however. While the Horns still attacked the rim, they didn't do it as often and didn't capitalize nearly enough from the line. Texas was an awful 7-for-16 from the free throw line in the second half, which includes two misses on the front ends of one-and-ones. Basically, the Horns missed the opportunities to stay close in the closing minutes from the line. I don't know if it was the crowd or tired legs, but it doesn't matter. If the Horns had knocked down their free throws, they may have been able to overcome their defensive woes.

Bench Play. Neither team has a deep bench but A&M easily gets the edge in bench production. Bryan Davis (8 pts) and Donald Sloan (11 pts) were huge for the Aggies off the bench, while the Horns got just two points from Connor Atchley.

Offensive Rebounds. The official game stats have not been posted yet but I can almost guarantee the Aggies won the battle on the boards and outscored the Horns in second chance points. A&M's big men were physical on the glass and used their size advantages over James and Mason and their weight advantages over Durant and Atchley to get easy second looks near the rim.

Coach Barnes was as frustrated as I've heard him all season in his post game interview with Craig Way. He thought the Horns were in a position to win the game late in the second half and didn't come through for the second straight game. Barnes was extremely upset about our defense, and rightfully so. Texas isn't going to beat almost anyone they allow to shoot 50% and take 11 more shots.

Where Are We?
The Horns will drop into a tie for third place in the Big 12 going into Saturday's game, and Texas now has just seven games left - four at home and three on the road. The Horns probably need to win five of those to finish in the top four in the Big 12 and secure a first round bye in the post-season conference tournament. Going 5-2 the rest of the way will mean defending our home court with wins over Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and A&M and grabbing one road win at either Baylor or OU. Going 4-3 down the stretch is probably more realistic, which would put the Horns at 20-10 and likely somewhere in the #7-10 seed range. As we have mentioned many times before, that is not where we want to be.

I'll say it again: the only way this team reaches their full potential is with improvements on the defensive end.

Next Game: vs. Iowa State 12:30 PM (ESPN Plus)