Coming off of two straight losses since the suspension of senior guard Kerwin Roach II, including Wednesday’s meltdown against the Baylor Bears, the Texas Longhorns returned home to the Erwin Center on Saturday with a resounding 86-69 victory over the Iowa State Cyclones.
Not only did the win help the team’s NCAA Tournament chances, it also featured the Horns showing continued growth in several individual areas — sophomore guard Jase Febres hit 8-of-10 threes to score 26 points, a career high, and freshman guard Courtney Ramey added 18 points in his own efficient performance. As a group, Texas showed that it was able to respond to the blown 19-point lead against Baylor, a key response for head coach Shaka Smart’s team.
Senior forward Dylan Osetkowski was back in the starting lineup for the Horns as the Cyclones started the game without suspended forward Cameron Lard. With 13 points in 21 minutes, Osetkowski provided his team a boost after missing the Baylor game.
As has been the case too often this season, Texas started slowly offensively, with Smart substituting frequently trying to find the right combination. Eventually, it was the rim-running ability of freshman forward Jaxson Hayes and some continued marksmanship from fellow freshman forward Kamaka Hepa. Hayes finished an alley-oop dunk and Hepa then hit his fourth straight three-point attempt since entering the starting lineup against Baylor.
Some familiar issues were apparent, however, as Texas gave up four offensive rebounds through the first 10 minutes of the game and committed four turnovers, including two by Hayes and one by sophomore forward Jericho Sims.
Two separate 6-0 runs by Iowa State helped the Cyclones to a 20-16 lead at the under-eight timeout. Beyond the offensive rebounds allowed, the Horns were struggling defensively in the paint — 14 of the 20 points scored by the visiting team came in the paint.
Coming out of the timeout, Febres started to heat up from beyond the arc, hitting two consecutive three-point attempts to continue his torrid shooting from downtown.
As the Cyclones went frigid from the field — the drought was at six full minutes when Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm called a timeout with 3:30 remaining — the Horns took advantage. Junior guard Elijah Mitrou-Long hit a three and then found Ramey for an easy layup. On defense, the two guards combined to create a steal and Mitrou-Long found Hayes running the lane for a thunderous dunk.
When Prohm called the timeout, the Texas lead was at seven points at 30-23 thanks to a 7-0 run. Febres stretched it to 10 with his third three of the game as the Cyclones continued to struggle offensively. Then Ramey added two more at the free-throw line.
Georga Conditt finally ended the drought from the field at 8:22 with a basket in the paint to bail out a wild shot from Nick Weiler-Babb, who was shaken up on the play.
Faced with a key possession as the clock ticked under one minute to play in the first half, sophomore guard Matt Coleman found Febres in the corner for his fourth three of the opening 20 minutes. Texas went into halftime with a 38-26 lead thanks to a 15-3 run over the final 9:29.
The ball movement of the two teams was a stark contrast in the first half — the Longhorns had nine assists on 13 made baskets, while the Cyclones only had a single assist on 10 made baskets. As a result, the league’s top scoring team (78.3 points per game) and leader in field-goal percentage (48 percent) was held to only 26 points on 35.7-percent shooting.
The Longhorns didn’t let up starting the second half, either, as Febres hit a three after Texas broke the Iowa State press and Osetkowski made a layup after fantastic ball movement by the entire team before hitting a three in transition to prompt a Prohm timeout as the lead stretched to 46-30.
After that, Ramey started to heat up, hitting two long threes and finishing in the lane off the bounce. As Ramey hit his second and third shots of the half, the lead was pushed to 21, the highest of the game and the largest deficit the Cyclones have faced all season.
As that drama unfolded, Febres remained scorching hot, hitting two more threes to break the 20-point mark for the second straight game by hitting 7-of-9 shots from beyond the arc. When the Cyclones finally ran him off the line, he hit a pull-up jumper. When Iowa State left him alone again, he hit his eighth three.
Entering the game, Iowa State was 10-1 when making 10 or more threes and 10-7 when they don’t. On Saturday, the Cyclones only had six total, with most of them coming in the second half when the game was largely decided, as Prohm’s team wasn’t able to get any closer than 15 points after the Longhorns stretched the deficit.
Texas, on the other hand, finished with 19 assists on 28 made baskets in a game that at times featured excellent ball movement. Against a Cyclones defense that didn’t offer much resistance, the Longhorns hit 54.7 percent from the field and 60 percent from the three-point line. Even freshman forward Gerald Liddell hit a jumper in garbage time.
With two games remaining in conference play, Texas travels to Lubbock for a Big Monday matchup with Texas Tech at 8 p.m. Central on ESPN.