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Game Review: Texas Crashes In Stillwater, 59-68

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Final - 2.28.2009   ::   COMPLETE BOX SCORE 1 2 Total
Texas Longhorns 18 41 59
Oklahoma St. Cowboys 30 38 68

full game Coverage >

Game Recap: The best way to characterize the first half of Texas' 59-68 loss to Oklahoma State is "race to the bottom" -- by Damion James, by Dogus Balbay, by Justin Mason, by Rick Barnes... and, with equal vigor, by many of the Texas fans following along in the game thread. When Damion James' three point shot badly missed to conclude the half, Texas had managed a meager 18 points of first half offense. Considering that watching Texas first half performance shook me back to the days when the 8th grade B-Team I was coaching would scrimmage the high-A squad... I suppose the Longhorns were lucky only to be trailing by 12.

Incredibly, things actually got worse in the first three minutes of the second half as Texas lost 3 turnovers and committed 2 fouls, and when Terrel Harris' two free throws put OSU up 17 with 17:07 to play, I'm not sure anyone would have blamed the Longhorns if they had just mailed it in from there.


But facing the largest deficit of the night, Rick Barnes' substitution of Harrison Smith -- which at the time seemed an act of desperation more than anything else -- proved to be precisely the offensive spark that Texas needed. Dogus Balbay immediately started a Texas rally by aggressively penetration the lane; though he missed, the Cowboys were caught out of position, Dexter Pittman grabbed the offensive board, put it back in, and drew a foul for a three-point play. Seconds later, AJ Abrams stole the ball from James Anderson and found Harrison Smith open on the wing for a transition three pointer. The 6-0 spurt pulled Texas back within 11 at the under-16 timeout, and more importantly, gave Balbay and the Texas offense the energy and confidence to attack that had been missing.

After a Keiton Page three pointer put OSU back up by 13 with 12:27 to play, Texas put together the big run it needed, outscoring OSU 19-7 over the game's next 8 minutes to slash the lead to 56-55. Sadly, that's as close as Texas'  visibly drained players would get. From there, as the tired Longhorns substituted fouling for actual defense and stand-and-watch-Abrams for actual offense, the Cowboys outscored Texas 12-3 to close out the game.

The outcome was: Deserved. Pretty much everyone but Harrison Smith deserves a slice of tonight's blame cake, but the largest slice goes to Rick Barnes & Staff. With Oklahoma State dropping Mason and/or Balbay's defenders into the paint for a  pre-entry pass double team, Texas fans watched in disbelief as the Longhorns simply ran minor variations of the same mistake over and over again. Meanwhile, Texas' first-half transition defense looked like a replay of the 2007 Kansas State football game: wave at the opponents as they sprint by! Throw in shoddy timeout management and atrocious endgame offensive strategy, and it's not unfair to say Rick Barnes didn't put his team in a position to win tonight.

Stat of the Game: Texas 7 assists, 15 turnovers.  If I was a scout watching Damion James tonight, I have huge concerns about his ability to play the wing in the NBA, so poor were his ball-handling skills. Elsewhere, AJ Abrams had what was perhaps his worst game of the season, finishing with 15 jacks (only 3 made), 3 turnovers, and not a single assist. Justin Mason was so lousy in his 19 minutes of action (0 points, 3 turnovers, 0 assist, 3 fouls) that Barnes turned to Harrison Smith. And Dogus Balbay waited an entire half to come to life and attack the OSU defense, all four of his assists coming in the game's final 20 minutes.

Offensive MVP: Harrison Smith 12 points (5-9, 2-5 3PFG), 5 rebounds (4 offensive)  OSU's defensive game plan was simple: sag Balbay and Mason's defenders off and away from their men to double team the post and smother AJ Abrams. With Texas' offense in the gutter, Barnes wisely turned to the eager-to-score Harris, who provided for Texas a perimeter player willing and able to shoot, a threat which neutralized OSU's defensive strategy and opened the floor for Balbay to drive. Though the 'Horns ultimately fell short, Harris deserves a lot of credit for his effort tonight, connecting on two long balls and finishing three more in the paint off of offensive rebounds. His defense is still a clear liability, but he hustled there, too, playing adequately enough to justify his minutes. Whereas to this point all we've seen from Harris offensively are long, often ill-timed three point attempts, if he can contribute to the offense in all the ways that he did this evening, it's going to be difficult not to give him 15-20 of Varez Ward and Justin Mason's minutes. Certainly with Gary Johnson out tonight, Texas needed someone who could pose some sort of scoring threat. Kudos to Smith for stepping up to fill that void.

Defensive MVP: Dogus Balbay. He certainly wasn't the problem on defense tonight, both his excellent work on Byron Eaton and his three second half steals critical to the Texas rally.

Factor Four:

1. Damion James and Dexter Pittman really missed Gary Johnson.  Damion James played his heart out, God bless him -- unquestionable effort for all 40 minutes of his 18 point, 18 rebound performance. Still, James' night was marred by painfully sloppy handles and six(!) missed lay ups. More than any other Longhorn, Damion missed the offensive floor spacing that Gary Johnson provides, as OSU was able to pack in the paint, double teaming Pittman and James with impunity. Throughout the first half, Big Dexter struggled mightily with the two Cowboys defenders on his hip at all times, while the swarm of inside bodies caused James to struggle with countless close looks he normally finishes.

2. Baylor is now a must-win.  Unless you want to stake your wad on Texas winning at Allen Fieldhouse, you should probably consider Texas' Monday night home game against Baylor a must-win.Take care of business, and Texas remains in decent enough shape, whatever the outcome in the Big 12 tournament. But if they lose to Baylor... things suddenly get interesting again, and not in a good way. This year's bubble doesn't look too imposing, but the last thing Texas wants is to close the regular season with three straight losses, including one at home.

3. Harrison Smith's spark as a microcosm of a lingering big issue.  While it's anyone's guess whether Smith can provide with any consistency what he did this evening, his spark off the bench illuminated the ball and chain the Texas offense is dragging around the court -- the lack of perimeter shooting threats.

It's an issue that plagues Texas' roster from top to bottom. What's the problem with giving minutes to the excellent defense provided by Justin Mason and Varez Ward? Neither can hit a jump shot to save their lives. What has Texas most missed from Connor Atchley? His ability to knock down the outside J. What's the one thing keeping Dogus Balbay from being one of the most dangerous point guards in the country? No outside shot.

In looking at what Harrison Smith provided tonight, it's easier to appreciate how Gary Johnson -- still raw and coming into his own -- brings a particularly valuable skill set to this Texas offense. Along with his strong body and improving skills near the rim, Johnson's ability to knock down 12-18 foot jump shots make him especially important as a neutralizing weapon for sagging defenses.

4. Player notes.  After back-to-back solid efforts at home, Clint Chapman was the Queen of Spades tonight in Stillwater, equal parts clumsy and soft on both ends of the floor....  After a tough, mostly unproductive first half, Dexter Pittman was having an excellent second half when Rick Barnes subbed him out with 5:27 to play and Texas within 7. But he never saw the floor again and was sorely missed over the final four minutes when the Longhorns quit working the ball inside and watched AJ Abrams dribble and brick away the team's last chances.... Freshman point guard Dogus Balbay was in the first half thrown wildly off his game by the severity of the cushion his defender was giving him. He refused to shoot or drive, as he (and the Texas offense) were thoroughly rendered ineffective. Fortunately, his second half performance (4 points, 4 assists, 3 steals) was as excellent as his first half was poor... Connor Atchley gave Texas serviceable defense and interior rebounding that was sorely lacking from Clint Chapman, but his offensive slump continued (0-3 FGs). Especially without Johnson, Texas badly misses Atchley as a 8-10 PPG scorer. 

Looking Ahead:

Remaining schedule: Monday, 3/2 vs Baylor (8:00 p.m.), Saturday 3/7 at Kansas

If you're a masochist: 

Trips Right's review at BC