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The Texas Longhorns Escape with an Ugly Win

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Matt Coleman put Texas ahead with nine seconds remaining when he found the net with a floater.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana Tech at Texas
At least no cheerleaders were dropped.
John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

Oh boy. It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't easy or safe, but the Longhorns came up with a win against Tennessee State when Matt Coleman hit a floater with nine seconds remaining to give the Longhorns a 47-46 victory. It might have been the only literal floater the Longhorns hit, but the whole game was at least a metaphorical one, as the Longhorns did not exactly play their best basketball. Dylan Osetkowski led all scorers with 16 points, while Christian Mekowulu paced the Tiger with 15 points in the loss.

The four score and seven Texas fans in attendance tonight were treated to a brilliantly stupid rock fight, as the Tennessee State Tigers came out in a packed-in zone defense that looked straight out of a 1980s Police Athletic League, and the Longhorns decided to play along. Shaka Smart's team started off the first half of the game with lifeless play, alternating between trying to jam the ball inside to Mo Bamba and passing the ball around aimlessly on the perimeter. It didn't go very well. Bamba had two or three defenders surrounding him at all times, and his lack of strength is apparent — Bamba needs squats and deadlifts like a middle-aged man struggling with terrible children and a bad few years at work needs to run away from life to the Azores with all of the 401k money and a 25-year-old dance instructor. OK, I admit that might sound a little too carefully thought out.

Meanwhile, the Texas guards seemed uninterested in attempting to explore gaps in the zone defense using dribble penetration, or in hitting the rim or backboard at all with their shots for essentially the entire first half. But oh well, the Big 12 tells us they will all be champions for life.

There were a few highlights in the crap collage of the first half. Just before the under 16 timeout of the first half, Matt Coleman threw an ill-advised fastball inside the zone that Dylan Osetkowski somehow caught and converted into a basket. Several later attempts at similar passes by Coleman would end in disaster, but at least we had that one. Later in the half the Longhorns found Jericho Sims along the back line of the defense for a lob. It wasn't the most accurate pass, but Sims was able to leap and redirect it into the rim.

The Tiger's Christian Mekowulu took it to Bamba inside during the first half with 11 points, overpowering him on the block.

Near the end of the first half, the Longhorns used a 10-0 run to take a lead. After missing their first 11 three point attempts of the game, the Longhorns finally saw a few shots fall as Kerwin Roach hit back to back threes. (Texas would finish the game 3-21 from beyond the arc, which goes a long way towards explaining what we saw tonight.) The Texas full-court pressure was able to create a few more scores, and the Longhorns ended up taking a 25-21 lead into the locker room.

Texas came out of the second half with a flurry of pointless, unforced, and absurd turnovers, allowing the Tigers to grab a 29-27 lead by the first media timeout. Turnovers would plague both teams throughout the second half; the Longhorns ended the game with 17 giveaways, while coach Dana Ford's squad coughed up the ball 25 times.

For a very short period of time during the second half, the Longhorn offense showed a bit more verve. Shaka Smart switched away from the self-sabotage zone offense his team was employing during the first half and went with a tactic that longtime Texas fans know well from the Rick Barnes days. The Longhorns decided to start penetrating into the middle gap of the zone defense, using ball screens to help when needed, which led to chances to find players around the rim for dunks and easy scores. Imagine that. When in doubt, it turns out that driving the basket is a good idea. Additionally, during a large stretch of the second period the Longhorns played three big men — Dylan Osetkowski, Mo Bamba, and Jericho Sims — on the floor together to try to take advantage of their size against the Tiger zone.

After struggling through much of the game, Texas point guard Matt Coleman started to get active and make some plays for the Longhorns in the latter stages of the second half, with a highlight being a baseline drive in transition for a dunk that put the Longhorns up 41-38. Simultaneously, it looked as if the Texas defense was starting to create some pressure, and the Longhorns seemed as if they were getting ready to pull away.

But nope. It wasn't happening. Play making by Tennessee State kept things close.

Coleman would continue to make plays for the Longhorns late when he drove the middle gap in the zone (hello, it was there all damn night, but I am glad they eventually found it) and connected with Osetkowski for the dunk. But Tennessee State answered when an Armani Chaney drive and dish led to a dunk for Mekowulu, breaking a Texas run and holding the score at 45-40 with 3:07 left.

What happened next was something of a nightmare. On the following few possessions the Longhorns had empty trips. On the Tennessee State side Mekowulu drew a double-team from the Longhorn defense and found Daniel Cummings for a corner three, and then one possession later Delano Spencer connected on another three to give Tigers lead 46-45 with 1:26 remaining. The Longhorns followed this up with a shot clock violation. Oh dear.

But in the end, the Longhorns made just enough plays to win. Coach Ford's team looked inside for one last time to Mekowulu, who had been making plays for them all night. But this time Bamba blocked his shot, and the Longhorns retained possession after a Jacob Young run with the ball up the floor that nearly ended in disaster somehow did not.

All of this set up the final possession for the Longhorns, where Matt Coleman gave Texas the win on a drive to the basket.

Notes:

  • I wonder what life is like for a Swedish guy who hoops at a HBCU? I guess I need to start tweeting relentlessly at Hampus Ahlin to find out.
  • A lowkey highlight of the game was when in the second half Fran Fraschilla compared Dylan Osetkowski to the White Mamba.
  • Mo Bamba is just not very strong with the ball. Jarrett Allen had the same problem early in the year last year, but improved as the season went on. Hopefully something similar happens for Bamba, because it simply isn't all that much fun to see him get the ball slapped away.
  • Matt Coleman's turnover rate is rapidly rising. He probably isn't going to be as steady with the ball as he was early in the season and won't be as bad as he has been for the last few games; the real Coleman probably falls somewhere in between. At least he hit that last shot.

Jeff's writing tunes provided by John Tesh.