A gritty effort by an undermanned Texas Longhorn team fell short in the final minutes to the No. 10-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers in Austin on Saturday.
Down the stretch, the ‘Horns just couldn’t stop Mountaineers lead guard Jevon Carter, who scored most of his 15 points in crunch time, including a tough finish inside and two crucial free throws.
Andrew Jones played well for Texas in tying his season high of 17 points with four made three pointers, also a season high, but fouled out late in the game.
Another freshman, Jarrett Allen, was the leading scorer with 19 points, including 6-of-7 from the field and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. During key stretches of the second half, however, the guards were unable to get him the basketball — when Allen is playing that efficiently, he needs more than seven field-goal attempts.
Overall, it was a strong performance from a team missing its leading scorer, Tevin Mack, as well as senior Kendal Yancy. Head coach Shaka Smart, in particular, was key to the game being as close as it was by shrewdly switching defenses consistently to disrupt the West Virginia offense, which turned the ball over 15 times and shot only 22.2-percent from the three-point line.
Texas managed to survive the first four minutes without falling behind badly, but had already turned the ball over three times and ultimately suffered two early fouls from Jones, Eric Davis Jr., and James Banks.
Unsurprisingly, Texas even struggled to get the basketball inbounds early, though Smart’s team managed to avoid any five-second violations.
With limited depth due to the injury to Kendal Yancy and the indefinite suspension of Tevin Mack, the ‘Horns put graduate transfer Mariek Isom into the game for the first time this season. Isom struggled to fully recover from a preseason ankle infection.
Isom played sparingly and missed his first shot attempt at Texas, a corner three pointer.
Foul trouble for the ‘Horns allowed the Mountaineers to get to the line early and often, with seven attempts and five makes by the under-12 timeout. However, Texas maintained a 14-12 lead due to even better foul shouting and better shooting from the field.
It helped that two of the five turnovers to that point were offensive fouls and another was a dead-ball mistake by Jacob Young, who stepped on the baseline during a drive. The sixth came less than a minute letter on a travel by Banks.
A switch to a zone defense forced outside shots on a poor shooting day for West Virginia and kept Bob Huggins’ team off the free-throw line.
In six minutes, the visitors only got off seven shots, finally making a layup to end the long scoring drought.
Texas was especially effective in transition off of missed shots or broken pressure, with Allen finding Shaq Cleare for a layup and Jones knocking down a three pointer to stretch the lead to 21-14 and force a timeout by Huggins.
After that, West Virginia improved from the field, making jump shots and finishing around the rim, taking a lead 39-34 into halftime after Texas went cold and suffered from some turnover problems.
The ‘Horns did manage to take some momentum into halftime after Kerwin Roach Jr. made up for two missed free throws by hitting a last-second shot from distance.
A 12-2 started the second half that forced another timeout from Huggins to stop the momentum. During the stretch, the ‘Horns did a good job of getting to the rim and getting to the free-throw line.
The sequence also included a pretty alley oop from Clear to Allen. Cleare had a good day, handling the ball some in the first half to break the press and playing efficiently from the field.
By the under-12 timeout, Texas had a 50-45 lead thanks to 4-of-5 shooting from Cleare and Allen. The talented freshman center had also hit all six of his free throws to that point in the game.
Then the Mountaineers went on a 9-4 run, aided by more turnovers from the ‘Horns, finishing out the game in part because Roach Jr. was unable to connect on jump shots. He ended the contest in making only three of his eight shot attempts and four of his seven free throws.
With the loss, Texas fell to 7-10 on the season with games against Baylor and Kansas looming in the next week.