Winless in Austin since 1996, the No. 8-ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders were unable to pull out an historic victory at the Erwin Center on Wednesday against the Texas Longhorns.
Head coach Shaka Smart’s team pulled out the 67-58 victory despite some sloppy play down the stretch that put the game in peril, but overall turned in one of the most impressive performances of the season. The victory was the first over a top-10 ranked opponent in nearly two years.
Before the game, guard Kerwin Roach II was cleared to play after sitting with a fractured wrist, giving the Longhorns an unexpected boost at home. Since Roach wasn’t even cleared to practice on Monday, his participation didn’t seem likely, but he was electric in his return, leading Texas with 20 points, 14 of them in the second half.
Roach was his usual steady self on the perimeter defensively while providing a playmaking presence off the bounce. In getting to the rim, Roach drew fouls and finished 8-of-9 at the free-throw line, a possible indication that his fractured hand was impacting his performance in that regard.
Texas created separation early in the second half by executing well offensively and playing high-level defense, stretching the difference to 13 points with a little more than 12 minutes remaining.
Furious full-court pressure from the Red Raiders helped melt the poise of the Longhorns, who suffered some careless turnovers. Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard also adjusted his offense to create more driving lanes and backdoor passes, eventually cutting the lead to 47-43 at the under-eight timeout.
Instead of further losing composure, Texas responded, with Roach hitting two free throws out of the break and guard Eric Davis Jr. following up with a three-point make to stretch the margin back to seven.
Down the stretch, Roach, Davis, Mo Bamba, and Matt Coleman continued to make plays to secure the much-needed win and boost the NCAA Tournament resume for the ‘Horns.
After a solid first half, Texas entered halftime leading 29-24 following buzzer-beating dunk from Bamba, who caught a high pass from Coleman and pivoted under the basket before sending it through with authority.
Bamba finished with eight points, six rebounds, two blocks, and two steals in an opening 20 minutes that showcased his ability on both ends of the floor. After struggling at times against Oklahoma State, Coleman also turned in an excellent floor game during the first half, scoring six points and dishing out four assists against only one turnover.
As expected in a game featuring two of the nation’s seven best defenses in adjusted efficiency, both offenses struggled during the first eight minutes scoring points in shooting in the mid 30-percent range.
Coleman, however, was particularly good off the bounce creating opportunities for his teammates and converting with mid-range shots — the offense looked promising early.
Following a huge slam off the bounce from Bamba that ignited the Erwin Center crowd a lay in off penetration from Coleman, Texas was dominating Tech in points in the paint, 12 to two.
MO MURDER pic.twitter.com/GuzkzKIPkc— (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻ 1115 (@Bitterwhiteguy) January 18, 2018
Bamba then showed some next-level awareness by passing out of the post, sparking ball movement that produced an open three for Roach after the extra pass. Sweet.
Enjoy it a little Mo, Texas fans, because he’s a special talent and every minute he plays for the Longhorns is worth watching.
With Texas Tech content to mostly stick to its typical man-to-man principles, Texas was able to attack off the bounce and create some good opportunities while producing a handful of offensive rebounds.
For the most part, the motion offense of the Red Raiders struggled to shake the Longhorns, who played high-level brand of defense in the first half. Mostly utilizing the three-big lineup that Smart now prefers, the ability of every defender to switch every ball screen and then limit penetration and good looks off the bounce frustrated Texas Tech.
The improvement of Dylan Osetkowski at the small forward spot is particularly notable — he clearly had moments earlier in the season when he struggled to close out on shooters, but he’s steadily gotten better in recent games.
Getting Roach back helped, too, and he added six points on the offensive end while looking comfortable dribbling with his left hand.
Texas got off to a good start in the second half as Roach attacked the basket to draw a foul before hitting both three throws, then using a second three from Roach on a dish from Sims to stretch the lead to 10.
And though Red Raiders head coach Chris Beard prefers man-to-man defense, the Longhorns were good enough on offense to force Tech into a zone defense.
After Osetkowski missed a good look from deep, Coleman broke down the zone and left a lob for Bamba, smiling to the camera underneath the basket with both palms in the air. Exactly the joy with which Smart wants him to play.
The play served as a defining moment for the game.
Continuing to win in Big 12 play will remain difficult, especially on the road, but Shaka Smart’s team showed further growth and proved that it can hang with the nation’s best. And even beat them.