Matt Coleman dribbled and then dribbled some more. The ball was in the hands of the Texas Longhorns senior point guard as the clock ticked down with the game tied 67-67. With five seconds remaining, Coleman made his move, dribbling left from the top of the key, then stepping back from the free-throw line.
The ball hit the front of the rim, bounced off the backboard, hit the front of the rim again, and finally fell through the basket.
“I’m made for times like this,” Coleman had said to himself as he smirked on the way to the Texas huddle during the timeout preceding his game-winning shot.
But did he know that it was going in?
“Yes, I did,” Coleman said. “It was on line — I knew I didn’t leave it short, it just had to play with the rim a little bit, create some suspense for the fans.”
Nothing like the confidence of a talented senior point guard.
The last-second jumper by Coleman gave the No. 17 Longhorns a big win over the No. 14 North Carolina Tar Heels in Asheville. With three wins in three days, Texas won the Maui Invitational for the first time in school history and proved that the Horns are competing at a high level to start head coach Shaka Smart’s sixth season in Austin.
Coleman was sensational in the second half and the best player on the court, scoring 14 of his game-high 22 points as Texas held off a furious comeback from North Carolina. The senior point guard hit 6-of-8 shots in the final 20 minutes as the Tar Heels defense increased its intensity and attention to detail, forcing the Longhorns into playing more one-on-one basketball on offense.
With the game so close, the contributions from sophomore forward Kai Jones were key. Considered a starter by Smart, Jones is the first player off the bench and finished with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting — yes, Jones finally missed a shot for the first time this season — including 3-of-3 from the free-throw line. Jones added eight rebounds and a steal.
Senior forward Royce Hamm also played 20 key minutes, finishing plus-14 with five rebounds and four blocks.
The impacts made by Jones and Hamm were so important because several players struggled for the Horns. Senior forward Jericho Sims only played 13 minutes and didn’t score. Redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones was benched for a long stretch of the second half after turning the ball over twice coming out of halftime. He finished with five points on 1-of-7 shooting and committed five turnovers. Freshman forward Greg Brown III was a victim of the atrocious officiating, committing four fouls in 19 minutes, although he did make the first three-pointer of his Texas career.
“Every day in practice we’ve just got to keep trusting our skills and we will keep getting better and not take a dip and just continue to grow and learn from this,” Coleman said.
Fourteen fouls called on Texas helped North Carolina erase a 12-point halftime deficit — the Tar Heels got to the free-throw line 19 times in the second half compared to only two for the Longhorns. Defensive rebounding was a problem for Smart’s team, too, with UNC securing 12 offensive rebounds in the second half. Texas only had 10 defensive rebounds over the final 20 minutes. The 25 second-chance points for the Tar Hells helped make up a 24-point deficit from beyond the arc.
Around the midway point of the first half, Texas finally heated up after a slow start shooting the basketball, going on a 12-0 run over only 66 seconds that gave the Longhorns a 22-15 lead and forced Roy Williams to call a timeout. The run started with a putback layup by Kai Jones as he was fouled and then the outside shots started falling — Coleman hit two threes, with the second coming on a fast break, and redshirt sophomore forward Brock Cunningham hit one as well, also in transition.
Before the run, the Horns were able to stay close with their defense, forcing nine turnovers before the under-eight timeout. North Carolina helped Texas out by missing six of their first nine attempts from the three-throw line.
At the third media timeout, the Longhorns held a 24-17 lead and stretched it further as Texas stayed hot from three-point range — Ramey hit a three, Kai Jones continued his remarkable efficiency with a jab-step three of his own, and also added two free throws. At the under-four timeout, Jones had hit all 14 of his shot attempts on the season.
Seven steals helped the Horns fuel production in transition, as Texas scored 10 of its first 34 points on the break and finished with 17 for the game.
When North Carolina looked like it might go on a run late in the half, freshman Brown hit the first three-pointer of his Texas career after missing his first 12 attempts. The defense tightened up after Brown’s shot, too, as the Tar Heels did not score a field goal in the last 2:36.
A quick 6-0 run for North Carolina to start the second half cut the lead in half in only 1:25, forcing Shaka Smart to call a timeout. Brown scored on his favored drive left, but those were the only points for the Longhorns in the second half by the under-16 timeout as the Tar Heels cut the lead to two.
Texas was able to withstand the surge by North Carolina thanks to motor plays by Royce Hamm, who had a put-back dunk and an offensive rebound that set up a Coleman three. Coleman had just finished a difficult double-clutch layup. After the under-12 timeout, Coleman bailed out a poor offensive possession with a pull-up jumper at the free-throw line to push the Texas back up to eight and then to double digits once again with a steal and a finish in transition.
North Carolina rallied and took a two-point lead with 2:35 remaining, but Kai Jones hit a jumper and dunked in transition before Coleman’s game-winning shot went through the basket just before the final buzzer.
Now at 4-0 on the season, the Longhorns are finally starting to play the type of basketball that could save Smart’s job.
“We just got tired of talking about it,” Coleman said. “And we’re playing for something bigger than the names on the back of our jersey, we’re playing for Texas, playing for Coach Smart. Like myself, I really want him to coach, man.”