AUSTIN, Texas — A last-second attempt by the Xavier Musketeers couldn’t find the bottom of the net and the Texas Longhorns held on for a 78-76 overtime win on Sunday at the Erwin Center to advance in the NIT.
Against the big, physical Musketeers, the Longhorns refused to get pushed around.
“All 45 minutes, it was all about heart,” senior guard Kerwin Roach II said. “Just coming into the game, watching them and scouting them, coach [Shaka Smart] said they were going to try to bully us. There were a lot of altercations on the floor, stuff like that. They were trying to be real physical and we had to have a physical mentality.”
As Smart pointed out to his team before the game, the last time a Big East opponent came to the Erwin Center, Providence got the best of Texas physically. And the Musketeers are bigger and stronger than the Friars. Now a more “sturdy” group, according to Smart, the Longhorns didn’t back down.
As expected, nothing came easily against one of the biggest teams in the country, though.
After Roach missed three of his four free-throw attempts in the final 20 seconds, standout Xavier forward Naji Marshall had an opportunity to tie the game on a driving layup after an in-bounds pass with 1.7 seconds remaining. Senior forward Dylan Osetkowski had good position and forced a tough shot that bounced off the rim at the buzzer to preserve the victory.
Roach led Texas with 21 points on only 13 attempts as he made both of his shots from beyond the arc, but he hit only seven of his 15 free-throw attempts and committed five turnovers. Still, it was the highest-scoring game for Roach since scoring 21 points against Baylor in early February, as he said he regained his confidence and rhythm for the first time following his five-game suspension.
“I’m just playing basketball at this point,” Roach said.
A major mistake by the senior guard almost cost the Longhorns the game, however — Roach fouled Xavier guard Quintin Goodin with 2.7 seconds remaining in regulation with Texas leading by a point. Afterwards, Roach credited Smart for calling a timeout and icing Goodin, who made the first free throw and missed the second. Musketeers forward Zach Hankins secured the offensive rebound, though, forcing sophomore forward Jericho Sims to make the biggest block of his Longhorns career to send the game into overtime.
Sims hit two free throws to open overtime for Texas and freshman guard Courtney Ramey hit a big three-pointer. Sophomore guard Jase Febres blocked a shot defensively when he anticipated Marshall’s move, but couldn’t come through with a huge basket off an offensive rebound. Sims hit two more free throws and kept keeping the ball alive on the offensive end.
“He was big on offensive rebounds, just tipping the ball out, playing volleyball down there with them,” Roach said of Sims. “He came up big — he even made some better free throws than me, so I applaud him for that.”
In fact, Sims made five of his six free-throw attempts to score 11 points, his first game in double figures for the first time since the VCU game in early December. Sims added seven rebounds and two blocked shots, including the game-saving play in regulation.
“The way we want him to play is with a relentless approach to him,” Smart said. “Proud of him — this obviously has been a tough year for him with a lot of ups and downs and challenging days and weeks, but he’s getting better and better.”
Febres added 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting from three-point range — he said he always feels good if the first one goes in — but he also had a driving layup and a big floater rim out late on a strong drive.
The other major contributions came from Ramey, who is quickly emerging as the competitive heart of this team. The tough freshman from St. Louis scored 17 points and hit the defensive glass hard, setting his career high with eight rebounds. He added three assists and played 43 minutes.
Texas gained an advantage late in the game when Hankins and Tyrique Jones got into foul trouble. Jones left the court with 6:33 remaining and Xavier started switching all ball screens, which allowed the Longhorns guards to exploit mismatches off the bounce.
Just as importantly, Texas was able to play with four guards to spread the floor with sophomore guard Jase Febres. Because Xavier also went small, it reduced the size advantage for the Musketeers.
Xavier head coach Travis Steels said it hurt to have Jones go the bench.
“I think he obviously had a really good game. He played tremendous and they didn’t have any answers for him around the rim, but he’s got to stay out of foul trouble.”
Jones finished the game with 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting, as he was able to score efficiently against every defender that Texas sent at him. Early in the game, Smart didn’t want to give up offensive rebounds by doubling with another big, but in the second half, he committed to either sending a guard to dig down on the big or commit to the double team entirely.
A decision that Smart opted against was playing zone defense, even though Xavier only shoots 33.2 percent from three-point range — in the first half, the zone wasn’t particularly effective in allowing 1.2 points per possession, according to Smart, so he opted to stick with man-to-man defense after the early issues in the second half were resolved.
Offensively, Texas took a much different approach. Against South Dakota State, the Jackrabbits were helping aggressively to kept the Longhorns from scoring around the rim, forcing Texas to take 38 three-point attempts. Entering the game, Smart anticipated taking that approach and encouraged his players to shoot the ball with confidence.
On Sunday, the Horns attempted 23 shots from the beyond the arc and found some success in the first half by having Sims slip screens. Texas missed some shots in the paint, including four close to the basket in the second half, but found Febres when he was open.
Early on, Sims picked up two fouls, including one for an illegal screen, sending him to the bench in favor of Royce Hamm only 78 seconds into the game. With freshman forward Jaxson Hayes out due to his injured knee, the Horns were forced into a smaller lineup against a team that typically plays three players 6’7 or taller.
Texas was active on defense to start the game, however, forcing four turnovers in the first five minutes, including three steals. Overall, the Horns took advantage of turnovers by the Musketeers, scoring 21 points on the 12 turnovers by Xavier.
So were the Horns, as Roach committed two turnovers in his first four minutes on the court, but he did knock down a three-point attempt. Overall, it was a mixed bag early for Roach, who drew an offensive foul to trigger the under-eight timeout, but missed a free throw badly after taking a contested jump shot off the dribble with plenty of time left on the shot clock.
The intensity picked up after the under-eight timeout. Freshman forward Gerald Liddell forced a traveling call, then forced Marshall into a tough shot as Texas players found Sims for two dunks and Roach hit his second three-pointer of the game. Still, the Longhorns weren’t able to create much separation, as the Musketeers continued to score around the rim — at the under-four timeout, Xavier had five dunks.
Despite the shaky start, Roach led the team with 14 points in the first half and added three assists, including an alley-oop dunk by Sims and a cross-court pass to sophomore guard Courtney Ramey for a three.
The Horns closed the half on a strong run, hitting seven out of the team’s last 11 shots, but gave up two points at the buzzer after the Musketeers had to throw the ball the length of the court in 1.2 seconds thanks to an error by the clock operator. Otherwise, the last-second play never would have happened.
Unsurprisingly, the Xavier momentum continued into the second half — seven points in the first 78 seconds forced a timeout by Smart. By that point, Sims had committed a foul and given up two baskets near the rim, while Marshall hit his third three-pointer of the day.
Febres stopped the bleeding coming out of the timeout after another nice find by Roach, but by the time the under-16 timeout arrived, Xavier was on a 13-3 run to open the second half.
With the shot clock winding down coming out of the timeout, Roach scored on Jones with a nice drive and shot fake, then Febres hit another three after senior forward Dylan Osetkowski missed a point-blank layup. Sophomore guard Matt Coleman then hit a three-pointer of his own with the shot clock winding down to give Texas back the lead. When Roach drew a foul after securing an offensive rebound, Xavier called a timeout following a 6-0 run by the home team.
Ramey followed with his second three of the game, Coleman found Roach for a layup in transition, and Febres brought the crowd to its feet with a layup to stretch the lead to seven. The Horns took a 57-51 lead into the under-eight timeout after Coleman missed two attempts near the rim — by that point, Texas had left six points on the board thanks to four misses close to the basket.
Out of the timeout, Febres made another three-pointer, his fourth of the game, but Xavier scored four points on the other end after an offensive rebound on a missed free throw meant to complete a three-point play. Two more baskets in the paint forced a timeout by Smart as the pick-and-roll defense of the Longhorns broke down.
The Horns responded well, as Sims hit a left-handed hook shot and Ramey scored in the paint off pick-and-roll action to give Texas a three-point lead at the under-four timeout.
Goodin hit his second three of the second half, but Febres responded with his fifth of the game and Ramey hit another little floater in the lane to set the Longhorns up for a successful finish.
As in the South Dakota State game, a team with every reason to check out mentally and emotionally following the disappointing regular season approached the game the right way, including hustling and diving on the floor or saving loose balls at every opportunity.
“The mentality came from wanting to win,” Roach said. “I didn’t want the season to end. My teammates didn’t want the season to end, either, so we all had one common goal, and that’s just winning. When you’ve got that, anything is possible — you can make all the winning plays, dive on the floor, do everything.”
Texas will play the winner of Colorado-Norfolk State on Wednesday at 8 p.m. Central. Those teams play at 8 p.m. Central on ESPN2 on Monday.