What a day for Texas Longhorns sports.
After the termination of head football coach Tom Herman on Saturday morning, the No. 8 Longhorns went into Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence and absolutely deconstructed the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks in an 84-59 victory that featured the road team leading from start to finish.
Less than a year after it looked like the Shaka Smart era was dead in the water following a blowout loss to West Virginia in Morgantown, a team that surged into the top 10 behind a strong start to the season finally showed what it looks like when most of the team clicks at the same time.
And it looks really good.
Texas was short handed with the transfer of junior forward Gerald Liddell and senior forward Royce Hamm and junior forward Kamaka Hepa not available, but the Longhorns never looked like a team missing five scholarship players in handing Kansas head coach Bill Self his worst home defeat in 18 seasons at the helm of the Jayhawks.
It was the first win for Texas in Lawrence since 2011.
Five players scored in double digits for Texas, led by junior forward Courtney Ramey, who bounced back from a scoreless performance against Oklahoma State to pour in 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
“He is truly, truly, truly one of a kind,” Smart said of Ramey. “The thing that I respect most about him, and I know this sounds basic but it is rare, is that he doesn’t have a bone in his body that’s not 100% about winning. And again, that’s a special trait. And then he has a lot of guts — he’s really, really able to kind of pull out of himself when it’s needed most a big play on either end of the floor.”
Texas also received a big boost on the interior.
After a poor start to the season, senior forward Jericho Sims had his best performance of the season with his first double-double, hitting 5-of-6 shots for 11 points and securing 12 rebounds. As well as Ramey played, Smart thought that Sims was the most important player in the game for the Longhorns as he finished around the rim and served as the defensive anchor.
“There’s not a lot of guys that can bang with Dave McCormack, and then when Kansas goes small with five guards be out of the perimeter switching on the guards and moving his feet,” Smart said. “And then the way he rebounded really set a tone for us... so I thought he was huge tonight. Better than his numbers indicate.”
McCormack entered the contest scoring 9.8 points per game in 19.4 minutes, but was almost completely neutralized by Sims around the basket as the junior forward missed all four of his field-goal attempts and was so ineffective that Self only played him four minutes in the second half.
Those final 20 minutes represented a key opportunity for the Longhorns. After entering the break with a 37-29 lead, Texas needed to do something it hasn’t been able to do in Lawrence over the last several seasons — hold onto a halftime advantage in the second half.
“The biggest thing was keeping our lead and putting our foots on their necks,” Ramey said.
In that quest, the Longhorns faced an early challenge when Jayhawks forward Jalen Wilson hit a three-pointer to cut the Texas lead to four with 17:23 remaining.
Texas responded by hitting its first six three-pointers in the second half, assisting on every one of them after too much one-on-one play in the opening 20 minutes. Three three-pointers after the Wilson three were particularly important, shots from redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones, senior guard Matt Coleman, and Ramey that pushed the lead to 12 and forced a timeout by Self.
Self was forced to call yet another timeout after a 12-2 run pushed the lead to 21 points after a five-second violation on Kansas coming off Self’s second timeout of the second half, a dunk by Sims, and a three-pointer by sophomore guard Donovan Williams turned a strong performance by the Longhorns into a truly remarkable performance on the road.
On defense, the Longhorns were able to run the Jayhawks off the three-point line while defending it effectively when the home team did get shots off — Kansas entered the game shooting 38.5 percent from beyond the arc, but only made 3-of-23 attempts on Saturday (13 percent).
In the lead up to the season’s first true road game, Texas spent practice time working on limiting three-point shots and second-chance opportunities against a team that does both extremely well. It paid off, as Kansas only rebounded 21.5 percent of their misses compared to 36.3 percent over the first nine games.
“We wanted to make more and limit them to less,” Ramey said of the plus-27 advantage Texas held from beyond the arc.
Smart praised his team for their multiple efforts on the defensive end in a game that featured the Longhorns holding the Jayhawks to 30.8-percent shooting from the floor, limiting Kanas to only six points in transition, and securing a 46-37 rebounding advantage.
As a group, the Horns played with the connectedness that Smart spends so much time emphasizing.
“I don’t know if it’s a gift or a curse, but I I’m very sensitive to that — like I can see what that looks like and what that does not look like, and this is not the first example of it, but this was a good example of our guys truly being connected with each other,” Smart said.
Now the challenge for Texas as it finds itself in the unusual position of playing so well is maintaining that momentum.
“If this is the peak on Jan. 2, then that would be really, really disappointing,” Smart said.
Texas returns to action at home on Tuesday against Iowa State.