The shots were there. The opportunities were there.
In a microcosm of the 2018-19 season, the Texas Longhorns played well enough to have a chance to win, but couldn’t do enough to avoid a loss, as the Kansas Jayhawks won 65-57 on Thursday in Kansas City to eliminate the Horns from the Big 12 Tournament.
The loss effectively eliminates Texas from NCAA Tournament consideration, too — with a win, the Longhorns had a 51-percent chance to receive an at-large bid, according to ESPN’s BPI, but the loss dropped it to eight percent. Now 16-16, the Longhorns face the reality that a .500 team has never received an at-large bid.
Kansas used a run to open the second half to break a halftime tie and Texas couldn’t overcome the margin late. In a sequence that effectively summed up the game, sophomore guard Matt Coleman missed an open three-point attempt from the corner and junior guard Eli Mitrou-Long missed a driving layup. Both shots came with the Jayhawks holding on to a four-point lead.
The struggles were indicative of how both players performed. Coleman suffered from foul trouble in the first half and didn’t score until he hit a three midway through the second half. He finished with three points, one assist, and two turnovers. Mitrou-Long only made one shot, too, on his five field-goal attempts.
Four players scored in double digits for Kansas, including forward David McCormack, who made 6-of-7 shots and corralled six offensive rebounds. Senior forward Dylan Osetkowski led Texas with 18 points and seven rebounds in his most prolific performance since last year’s trip to Kansas City.
To add injury to insult, freshman forward Jaxson Hayes was helped off the court late in the game after suffering a knee injury in a collision with a Kansas player.
Texas wasn’t sharp starting the game offensively, falling behind when Kansas star Dedrick Lawson hit a shot over Osetkowski from just outside the lane to give the Jayhawks a 9-2 lead. As a clock ticked towards the 16-minute mark and a long stretch of uninterrupted play, freshman guard Courtney Ramey got to the rim to finish a layup, hit a short jumper after shaking a defender, and then found sophomore guard Jase Febres, who broke an 0-for-11 stretch from beyond the arc to tie the game at 11-11.
McCormack continued his strong stretch of recent play with a put-back dunk before heading to the bench. Early in the game, he’d sent Hayes to the bench with an early foul after establishing deep low-post position on several plays.
When Hayes re-entered the game after the late under-16 timeout, Texas went zone in an attempt to neutralize McCormack on the box, though it resulted in McCormack securing an offensive rebound. On the other end, Kansas was able to slow down the Texas pick-and-roll game by hedging hard on screens to limit dribble penetration and make it difficult for the guards to find the rolling screeners.
The offense bogged down when Ramey went to the bench until the Longhorns were finally able to get out in transition and found freshman forward Jericho Sims for a dunk. The dunk broke a three-minute stretch when the only score for either team was the dunk by McCormack.
The 265-pound freshman continued to cause problems for Texas, forcing the second foul on Coleman and burying sophomore forward Royce Hamm deep in the post for his fourth bucket of the game. Hamm didn’t have a successful stint on the court offensively, either, missing four shots on two opportunities around the basket.
With Hayes out with two fouls, Sims filled on well, throwing down his second dunk of the game after replacing Hamm. Earlier in the half, he blocked a shot off the face of an official standing on the baseline near the Kansas basket and generally played with the type of assertiveness that has been missing from his game too often this season.
Late in the half, Jayhawks head coach Bill Self called a timeout after the Longhorns stretched the lead to 29-25 following a second three from Febres, which followed four points from Osetkowski, including a big three from the corner late in the shot clock. Osetkowski had kept that possession alive by diving for a loose ball eventually recovered by Texas.
Kansas was able to score four points to tie the game at halftime after Mitrou-Long fouled to break up a transition layup and the Jayhawks were unable to take advantage at the line.
The second half didn’t start well for Texas, as Kansas scored 13 points in the first four minutes, including a three-pointer from Devon Doctson in transition following a Ramey turnover that sparked a timeout from Shaka Smart as the Jayhawks opened up a seven-point lead.
Instead of making a run out of the timeout, Osetkowski turned the ball over and senior guard Kerwin Roach II took an out-of-control shot in the lane and wasn’t able to keep McCormack off of the offensive glass. Osetkowski stopped the bleeding temporarily with an offensive rebound, but Texas wasn’t able to get a stop defensively and couldn’t score on the next possession either.
Osetkowski hit a three to cut the lead to six, but the Horns didn’t get back in transition and Quentin Grimes made his open look. Roach then continued his poor play when he was called for traveling.
Over the next several minutes, Texas wasn’t able to cut into the lead, but had some opportunities — Ramey, Mitrou-Long, and Osetkowski all had wide-open looks from beyond the arc, but couldn’t make any of them. More missed opportunities followed the previous missed opportunities, as Febres missed his first two shots of the second half and Mitrou-Long couldn’t finish in transition.
When Texas ran an elevator screen for Febres, he didn’t draw anything other than the backboard, one of many plays that effectively summed up what type of game and season it was for the Longhorns.
Now Smart and his team will return to Austin and wait to see whether Hayes will be available if Texas receives an invite to the NIT following three straight loses.