AUSTIN, Texas — Once again, the Texas Longhorns couldn’t sustain any momentum this season, as the Kansas State Wildcats came into the Erwin Center and used an efficient second half to overcome a four-point halftime deficit for a 71-64 win on Tuesday evening.
Texas got off to an excellent start offensively, as the guards made seven layups in the first half, but only shot 30 percent from the field in the second half, including 2-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc. In fact, Kansas State was able to force Texas to take 11 jumpers over the team’s final 14 shots as the Horns only scored eight points in the paint during the second half.
In the first game between the two teams, Wildcats head coach Bruce Webber said his players looked like crossing guards letting Longhorns players get by them. In the second half on Wednesday, Kansas State played more compact defensively and even threw in some rare zone defense, which Webber has only played in one other game this season.
“We switched our defense up a little bit, iced the ball screens in the second half and then went zone for a few possessions to get about four or five stops in a row and get some easy scores off of that,” Kansas State guard Barry Brown said. “Just switching it, making them read different defenses and have them react on the fly.”
Head coach Shaka Smart thought his players weren’t aggressive enough attacking the zone and the team was hurt by live-ball turnovers, which resulted in 15 points for Kansas State during the game.
The struggles of senior guard Kerwin Roach II were particularly pronounced in the second half, as he missed all five of his shots in the second half and turned the ball over three times.
“One thing we can learn from, personally for me, is not turning the ball over,” Roach said. “I had six turnovers and no assists, you know. If I even cut mine down to three, we would have been under double digits in turnovers, so that would go a long way.”
Freshman guard Courtney Ramey also sat from the 6:16 mark until the game was effectively out of reach with 34 seconds remaining. Ramey didn’t score in the second half after providing the Horns a major boost with 10 points through the first 20 minutes.
“Just lineups,” Smart said. “Jase [Febres] has been really big down the stretch for us in certain games. Obviously, we’re going to have Matt [Coleman] and Snoop in there. Because of the way that Kansas State was playing lineup-wise, we couldn’t really go small with [Dean] Wade at the four, so it’s a judgment call.”
Unfortunately for the Horns, Febres wasn’t able to come through, as he only made one of his three three-point attempts in the second half.
Texas started the game hitting seven of its first 10 shots, with only one coming from beyond the arc, but struggled with turnovers, as the Horns committed four before the under-12 timeout, including three from Roach.
However, despite a good start defensively that included a shot clock violation and multiple deflections, once Kansas State found its footing offensively, it scored efficiently, especially from beyond the arc in hitting the team’s first two attempts. Three offensive rebounds lengthened possessions.
As a result, even though Texas was executing well when it was getting shots up, Kansas State led 17-16 at the under-12 timeout.
When Roach returned to the game, he was phenomenal getting the basket and finishing, as he hit four of his first five shots for eight points. Meanwhile, sophomore forward Jericho Sims was giving Texas good minutes with freshman forward Jaxson Hayes largely ineffective early — Sims made first three attempts and was active keeping the ball alive on the offensive glass.
Late in the half, it was Ramey getting hot, as he scored eight points in a flurry of baskets to finish with 10 points for the half. Unfortunately for the Horns, however, he had two three-point attempts rim out late, helping Wildcats cut what was once an eight-point lead to four, 39-35.
The run was enabled by continued strong dribble penetration by the Texas guards, as Roach, Ramey, and sophomore point guard Matt Coleman all took turns scoring at the rim, as those three players combined for seven layups in the first half.
The Longhorns gave up too many offensive rebounds early — the Cats had five total in the first half — but limited the damage on those possessions, as Kansas State only scored four second-chance points. On the other end, Texas converted eight offensive rebounds into 10 points.
To start the second half, the Longhorns defense wasn’t sharp enough, forcing head coach Shaka Smart to call a timeout just a little more than three minutes in as the Wildcats took a three-point lead. During that stretch, Kansas State had two dunks and made two open threes — one thanks to breaking the Texas full-court press and the second when Coleman helped too deep into the lane.
However, there was some good news, as Wade and Kamau Stokes both picked up their third fouls early in the half and headed to the bench.
Out of the timeout, the Horns finally broke the drought when Coleman made an excellent cut off the ball and forward Dylan Oestkowski found him from the post for a reverse layup. Then Osetkowski made only his second three-pointer in more than a month at the end of the shot clock after the ball rattled around the rim. He had only made one of his last 24 from beyond the arc.
Then Kansas State responded with another run, scoring nine straight points as the Texas defense slipped again and the Wildcats disrupted the rhythm for the Horns offensively by going to a zone defense. Hayes stopped that run by Kansas State, but after Wade hit a pull-up jumper in the lane, the Wildcats had hit 8-of-9 shots in the second half, including 3-of-4 three-point attempts.
The solution from Smart? Going to the 2-3 zone coming out of the under-12 timeout, which forced a missed jumper from Wade. In the first five possessions playing zone defensively, Texas secured four stops.
Once Kansas State had a timeout to discuss offensive strategy against the zone, the Wildcats looked more effective. When Stokes hit a three when Texas went back to man-to-man defense, it looked like the Longhorns were in serious trouble facing a seven-point deficit. Febres responded, however, with a big three to ignite the crowd.
Down the stretch, Texas just wasn’t able to do enough to secure the victory — Hayes wasn’t able to finish a dunk through contact and made only one free throw, then couldn’t finish around the rim after coming down with another high pass from Roach that would have cut the Kansas State lead to two. When Febres missed a good look from beyond the arc with 40 seconds remaining, the game was effectively over, as Kansas State was able to shorten the game thanks to an offensive rebound prior to that miss from Febres.
After taking advantage of the absences of Wade and Stokes in the first game, the Horns simply weren’t able to overcome one of the nation’s best defenses and most experienced teams.
“It made a big difference,” Smart said of their presence. “The thing about Kansas State, and they did a great job of this tonight, they have older guys that have a ton of experience and winning experience. They make you pay. If you make a mistake, they make you pay. If you leave them open, they make you pay. And sometimes even when you don’t leave them open and it’s well defended, they make you pay.”
The result was five Wildcats players in double digits, led by Brown and guard Xavier Sneed, who both scored 16 points. And that was enough to secure the victory when the Horns couldn’t maintain that eight-point lead before halftime and then struggled to start the second half.
Texas returns to the hardwood on Saturday when Oklahoma State comes to Austin. That game tips off at noon on CBS.