Needing to steal a road win tonight in Morgantown to have a realistic shot at finishing .500 in conference play, Texas suffered an atrocious opening half that saw them fall into an 18-point deficit. The Horns would rally all the way back to within 2 points in the second half, but couldn't quite complete the comeback, falling 71-64 to West Virginia (22-6, 10-5).
The loss was Texas' third straight following defeats at OU and versus Iowa State, leaving the Longhorns at just 17-11 overall, 6-9 in Big 12 play. With a road match up versus Kansas next up on the slate, this team is almost certain to suffer a sweaty Selection Sunday as a team hoping to slide in to the NCAA Tournament with a losing conference record.
It'll help that the Big 12 was far and away the top conference in the country during the non-conference season, but this is a long ways from the position this preseason Top 10-ranked team hoped to be as the calendar turned to March.
Tonight's loss felt to me like a perfect microcosm of the season as a whole. We spent about half the game playing quality basketball that would have been good enough to steal a road win but were ultimately overshadowed by the half of the game we spent playing in Yackety Sax mode.
We were done in by an ungodly number of turnovers, and had to play half the game without one of our key players (Holmes, who was ejected late in the first half for throwing an elbow). Myles Turner showed in flashes why he's a brilliant basketball player who will earn large sums of money paying professionally, but isn't quite to the point yet where he can put it all together against the team's tougher opponents.
Isaiah Taylor was brilliant at times but wasn't as consistent as we need him to be and struggled with turnovers. Demarcus Holland showed off his impressive development on the offensive end, except for the part where he struggled with -- you guessed it -- turnovers.
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Also, turnovers. We managed to fall into a 33-15 hole because for a good chunk of the first half we literally were turning the ball over more frequently than we were getting a shot up to the rim. A late burst heading into halftime helped keep us within spitting distance, but at the under-4 timeout had already coughed up 12 turnovers, leading to the almost comical result of shooting 73% from the field (11 for 15 shooting) yet trailing by double digits.
It was the entire season represented in a single game, which is to say it was a depressing showing by a team that demonstrated its promise but struggled to get fully in sync and ultimately fell short amid a deluge of turnovers. When it was all said and done, it felt less like West Virginia won the game than Texas lost it. We're a good basketball team that struggles to play good basketball. They might just miss the NCAA Tournament altogether. Rick Barnes might not be on the sidelines a year from now.
I'll continue to take a pass on discussing Barnes' future until the season is over, not because it's too soon to draw any conclusions but because I still care about the ongoing season, and desperately want this group of guys to find success. There will be more than enough time after the season ends to talk about Barnes and his future at Texas.
For now, we're realistically left to hope this team is at least competitive in Lawrence on Saturday and impresses in wins over Baylor and Kansas State to close out the regular season. That would likely slot the Horns at No. 7 in the Big 12 Tournament, with an opening round date against No. 10 Texas Tech, after which the No. 2 seed would await (likely ISU or Kansas), with the chance for a Tier I victory that locks up a bid.
It's not the scenario anyone expected or wanted for this team, but until the dream officially dies, my focus as a fan remains on the single most important objective of each and every season: getting an NCAA Tournament bid. Because you can win if you're in.
The optimistic hope for the stretch run took a hit tonight, though. This would have been a solid, momentum-building win that gave us a realistic shot at .500, but we came out flat against their press, took too long to adjust, and couldn't overcome the deficit. A disappointing outcome for what is turning out to be a disappointing season.
If ever there was a time to win at Phog Allen, it's now. Please, basketball gods: throw us some love on Saturday. We could use it.