For the first time since 2016, the Texas Longhorns went into Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater on Wednesday and beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys, 76-64, securing a critical conference road win and exorcising the demons from the last two games there.
Two years ago, the Longhorns blew a big late lead. Last season, Texas got off to a slow start and couldn’t pull off the comeback, but on this occasion, head coach Shaka Smart’s team got off to a fast start and held off several runs by the Cowboys to pick up another needed victory.
Five players scored double-digit points for Texas, with sophomore forward Kamaka Hepa scoring 15 in his fourth straight start after playing sparingly early in the season. Hepa hit three three-pointers and continued to facilitate spacing and ball movement for the Longhorns — he’s passed up some shots since earning more playing time, but the offense is better when he’s on the floor. In the second half, Hepa’s spacing and movement off the ball helped create two dunks and all three of his baskets from beyond the arc. He scored 13 of his 15 points in the final 20 minutes.
For a second straight game, sophomore guard Courtney Ramey hit a big shot in the second half, a key three when Oklahoma State was on a 12-3 run. A little more than two minutes later, Ramey was able to beat Cameron McGriff just enough off the dribble to make a tough shot in the lane before he hit another three to follow up an important make by Hepa from distance.
In a game filled with runs, those baskets were crucial to holding off the Oklahoma State surge in the second half. At one point, the Longhorns led by 17 points, but the Cowboys cut the lead to six on several occasions, including a minute-long stretch before Hepa hit a three with 8:56 remaining.
Shooting well helped Texas significantly after making 2-of-22 three-point attempts last season in Stillwater, especially the 8-of-12 mark from three in the second half, but the entire performance was keyed by a strong defensive effort against Oklahoma State’s poor offense.
In fact, the Cowboys made 10 field goals compared to eight turnovers in the first half as the Longhorns took advantage of turnovers throughout the entire game, scoring 20 points from the 11 turnovers by Oklahoma State. Eleven blocked shots by Texas also provided evidence of how hard and effectively the Longhorns competed on the defensive end.
It wasn’t a perfect performance by any stretch — Oklahoma State had major advantages in offensive rebounds, second-chance points, bench points, points in the paint, and fast-break points — but Texas had a margin of plus-27 on three-point baskets. And that isn’t easy to overcome, especially for an offensively-challenged team like the Cowboys.
Now the question is whether the last two wins were more a result of playing two of the worst teams in the Big 12 or whether Texas has started to turn a corner by improving enough to compete in this conference.
After Kansas comes to Austin on Saturday, there will be a more conclusive answer.