This. Is. March.
With six seconds remaining and the Oklahoma Sooners holding a two-point lead with senior forward Kristian Doolittle stepping to the line after a foul by the Texas Longhorns, the crowd at the Lloyd Noble Center started a chant.
“Texas sucks! Texas sucks! Texas sucks!”
Moments later, the crimson and cream faithful were shocked into silence — Doolittle missed both of his free throws, redshirt freshman guard Brock Cunningham secured the rebound, then passed it ahead to junior guard Matt Coleman, who pushed the ball in transition with the clock ticking down, pulled up from beyond the arc for a contested three, then banked it home.
TEXAS WINS AGAIN, 52-51. I don't know what's better, Matt Coleman III's clutch 3, or Andrew Jones' amazing reaction. pic.twitter.com/QvGvyUSCqq— Jeff Jones (@JeffJonesSports) March 4, 2020
Flexing and nodding, redshirt sophomore guard Andrew Jones threw his horns up before the last-gasp chance by the Sooners with .4 seconds remaining was thrown out of bounds to give Texas the narrow victory.
“It’s a combination of a little passion, a little luck and a little of March,” Coleman said.
With the win, ESPN Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi predicted that the Longhorns will make the NCAA Tournament after a fifth-straight win in an improbable run that will culminate with the regular-season finale against Oklahoma State in Austin on Saturday.
Prior to Coleman’s basket, a graphic on the telecast indicated that a Texas win would give the Horns a 67-percent chance to receive an at-large bid. A loss? Only 40 percent. In terms of impacting the program’s NCAA Tournament chances, Coleman’s shot may be one of the most impactful in Texas history.
Coleman’s shot was that big, and capped a game that was hard fought but ugly. In other words, completely on brand with Big 12 basketball this season.
Oklahoma shot 28 percent from the field. Texas was only marginally better at 33.3 percent, including 28.6 percent from beyond the arc. Committing nine turnovers in the first half hurt the Longhorns, while the Sooners benefitted from an inexplicable 29-2 advantage in attempted free throws. In fact, the visiting team didn’t attempt a single free throw until Jones went to the line with 1:32 remaining after Oklahoma guard Austin Reaves was called for a flagrant foul on review after grabbing the leg of Jones during a loose-ball situation.
Yes, it really took a flagrant foul to provide the Horns with their only free throws of the game on a night when Texas was called for 21 fouls compared to only 10 by Oklahoma, which played extremely physical defense all night.
Texas had Matt Coleman.
In his best game since injuring his heel against Iowa State before Texas started its five-game winning streak, Coleman looked his speedy self again in scoring a game-high 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including 3-of-5 shooting from three-point range.
Coleman’s performance — most especially his last-second heroics — made up for poor games from Jones and sophomore guard Courtney Ramey, who had previously keyed the run with consistent play. The two combined for only 12 points on 4-of-21 shooting and four turnovers.
In the energy category, junior forward Royce Hamm, Jr. was boom or bust, tying the career high he set on Saturday against Texas Tech with eight points and 11 rebounds. His six turnovers, though? As on brand as another ugly night of basketball in this defensive-minded conference.
Cunningham provided his own gritty effort, scoring eight points, recording 11 rebounds, and generally making himself a nuisance on both ends of the floor by competing for offensive rebounds and turning in what is becoming a typically tough defensive effort. He’s quickly becoming the type of player that opposing fans and players hate.
When was the last time that Texas had someone like that?
The Horns also showed a wrinkle to start the game, getting the ball to Hamm in post-up opportunities on the first possessions against Oklahoma forward Brady Manek, who often struggles defensively against more physical players. Hamm took advantage, hitting a jump hook and then a jumpshot over Manek, then scoring at the rim when Manek lost contact in semi-transition.
With that, Hamm was two points away from his career high in points that he set on Saturday less than three minutes into the game.
Why was that surprising? Since junior forward Jericho Sims went out with his back injury several weeks ago, Hamm hadn’t gotten many post-up opportunities because that’s not his strength as a high-energy, high-motor player. However, with a favorable matchup and without having to worry about the type of double teams or fronting that Sims was drawing before his injury, Hamm had room to work and plenty of time.
Texas also slipped a lot of the high ball screens early to keep Oklahoma from being able to hedge too hard against the guard.
When Texas didn’t get the ball to Hamm, the offensive effort was sloppy in the early going with three turnovers until Coleman scored in transition with a left-handed layup from the right side. Even then, the Horns continued to struggle to protect the basketball while attempting to attack into the paint, aside from several possessions that featured Hamm getting a body on his defender to allow Coleman to get to the rim.
The six turnovers in the first seven minutes, including two by Hamm, led to four early points for Oklahoma.
The Sooners were largely unable to take advantage of mistakes by the Longhorns, though — when Doolittle hit a jumper after the sixth turnover, it broke a scoreless drought of more than five minutes. Doolittle was difficult to stop for Texas, finishing with 20 points after getting to the free-throw line 12 times and otherwise taking advantage of his superior mid-range shooting.
Unfortunately for the Longhorns, all those turnovers kept Texas from opening up an early lead.
Around the under-eight timeout, Oklahoma started to find a rhythm offensively with an 8-0 run as Texas struggled to produce good offense until Hamm did a nice job of reading his defender and the pick-and-roll coverage, switching the direction of his screen from one baseline to the other to produce a driving lane for Coleman. Then Coleman hit another three sandwiched around a triple from Cunningham to stop the run by the Sooners and go into the under-four timeout with a 25-25 tie.
In a nice sequence for the Longhorns, Cunningham produced an extra possession with some hustle on a defensive rebound by the Sooners and sophomore forward Kamaka Hepa took advantage by hitting a three. Then Hamm scored on an offensive rebound to tie his career high in points and give Texas a five-point lead with 53 seconds remaining in the first half.
Hamm also provided another block in transition in what is becoming his signature play.
#Longhorns lead the Sooners 30-26 at the break!— Dennis de la Pena (@dennisonfox7) March 4, 2020
Royce Hamm Jr: 8 points, 8 rebounds, and one massive denial in 15 minutes of action. #HookEm : ESPN2 pic.twitter.com/YoL2CvErlz
Oklahoma only shot 30 percent in the first half, including 2-of-12 shooting from three, but got away with allowing 43.3 percent shooting from Texas by forcing nine turnovers. From the field, the Sooners were particularly cold to finish the half, going 1-of-9 shooting and enduring a field-goal drought of more than three minutes. Getting to the free-throw line eight time and converting on six of those attempts compared to zero free throws for the Horns helped keep the Sooners within striking distance.
The roller-coaster Hamm ride continued in the second half — he nearly turned the ball over again trying to make a move on the first offensive possession, actually turned the ball over after a subsequent defensive rebound, then was forced the leave the court when he left his feet against Doolittle in the post and fouled Doolittle’s elbow with his face.
With Hamm out, the Texas defense held strong as Oklahoma hit another scoreless streak, but the offense couldn’t take advantage, taking a 35-31 lead into the under-16 timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, the Horns had gone 1-for-11 shooting by the under-12 mark and still hadn’t shot a free throw, allowing the Sooners to go on a 6-0 run and tie the game. In the game to hit open shots, Hepa hurt Texas by missing an excellent look in the corner and only making one of his five attempts in his first 13 minutes of action.
The drought finally broke for Texas when Ramey scored his first points on a three that hit the backboard and most of the rim, then Cunningham hit another with his awkward side-spin release.
Down the stretch, even though the Longhorns appeared on the verge of a crushing loss, the Sooners only hit one of their last four free-throw attempts and didn’t make a field goal over the final 4:15.
And so Texas escaped Norman with a hard-fought win that continued the late-season momentum even in the midst of numerous injuries and some further adversity imposed by the officials.
Are you not entertained?