Uh oh. Shaka Smart and the No. 4 Texas Longhorns are now both winning games they are and aren’t supposed to.
Coming off a 25-point beatdown of then No. 3 Kansas at the Phog, the Horns (9-1/3-0) battled off any possible letdown to defeat the Iowa State Cyclones, 78-72, and win their first game since climbing inside the top five of the AP Poll rankings for the first time in a decade.
“I would say we did a B- job of handling that coming into tonight,” Smart said post-game about how the team managed following the victory over Kansas. “That’s one of the benefits of having so many guys back from last year. It doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to win but at least... it’s an experience they can take and bring the right mindset [for it].”
Texas redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones led the way with a new career high (23 points on 10-of-20 shooting and four assists) while also playing a game-high 37 minutes. AJ1 is averaging just under 20 points per game (19.3) and nearly 35 minutes per game during the Longhorns three-game Big 12 winning streak and seems to have returned to the physical form he was blessed with prior to his leukemia diagnosis.
“We got a group of guys that are really bought into the culture and you know who we are and who we want to be,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a culture shift, but it’s more of our culture finally being noticed and brought to light.”
After a lackadaisical start plagued by sloppy fouls and poor shooting, Texas took the lead for the first time with just over 10 minutes left in the first half and closed strong. Jones and senior point guard Matt Coleman scored 13 of the 15 Longhorns points to end the first period, along with Jericho Sims providing a strong presence on defense and on the glass.
“I’m glad he’s finally playing like the aggressive dominant big he is,” Jones said post-game after Sims finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, and was plus-eight on the floor.
“I just feel like everything is opening up now,” Sims said. “I remember this time last year I really started to take off as far as playing better and my contributions to the team.”
Sims played one of the best games of his career against Kansas, dominating the middle by posting 12 points and 11 rebounds, and did so again tonight against Iowa State. In the past, whenever Sims would have the ball down low it felt like a turnover or wild shot was incoming. Now, Sims has the footwork to pivot and then posterize some poor defender.
“Last couple of games I thought [Jericho] was the best player on the floor for either team,” Shaka said.
Although Texas held onto the lead for the final 30 minutes, the Horns failed to close the door on the Cyclones, who were able to cut the deficit to six points with 1:12 remaining.
Coleman, or Matty Ice, then did what he does best and that’s knocking down an ice. cold. dagger. to seal the Longhorns win.
Chef Coleman is cookin perfection pic.twitter.com/LmWPEHQ9fC— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) January 6, 2021
Texas now improves to 4-1 in games decided by five points or less this year and open 3-0 in the conference play for the first time under Smart as well as for the first time since 2010.
However, the schedule does not get easier for the Horns. Texas travels to Morgantown on Saturday hoping to avenge last year's 97-57 loss to No. 14 West Virginia (noon Centra on Longhorn Network). They’ll follow that game up with No. 18 Texas Tech at home on Tuesday (8 p.m. Central on ESPN2).
“In this game coming up versus West Virginia, we got killed up there [last year],” Sims said. “So that’s another box we want to check off.”
Other notes from the Horns win
- Man, I love watching Greg Brown play. I feel like he can get every rebound and expect him to block every shot. The freshman is also starting to heat up with his jumper. Brown finished with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting overall and 3-of-4 from three-point land, and pulled in eight rebounds, one block, one steal and was plus-11 on the floor overall. He’s now reached double figures in points in all but two of his games and has scored no less than 15 points in four of the last five.
After a poor shooting start to the season, Greg Brown has made 50 percent of his three-point attempts (7-14) in the last three games. #HookEm— Burnt Orange Nation (@BON_SBNation) January 6, 2021
- I really think that we’re seeing the version of Sims that we all have expected from the start of this season. You can talk about the guards, the scoring, Shaka’s hair, but I think the true key to success for Texas the rest of the season is getting these types of performances consistently from Sims.
- Texas was still without senior forward Royce Hamm Jr. and junior forward Kamaka Hepa in this one and even though senior guard Jase Febres was reportedly available to make his season debut against Iowa State, the senior guard did not.
- Iowa State (2-6/0-4) is off to a ROUGH start but they’ve also had to play No. 3 Iowa, No. 8 West Virginia, and No. 2 Baylor. Clearly the Cyclones haven’t found their identity yet, but Javan Johnson was a problem for Texas all night, scoring 21 points. I did find it interesting to see Shaka ride with Brock Cunningham over Sims down the stretch and Johnson immediately took advantage, scoring six straight points to keep the Cyclones close.
- Texas and Baylor remain the only teams left undefeated in conference play.