The No. 13 Texas Longhorns haven’t looked the part of an elite team in recent weeks, but aside from a slow start on Saturday afternoon at the Erwin Center, they were just that in a 70-55 win over the TCU Horned Frogs.
Texas redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones led the way with a game-high 19 points on 9-of-16 shooting despite dealing with foul trouble. And despite a largely poor performance, junior guard Courtney Ramey made some critical plays down the stretch to maintain the lead, including scoring five points and throwing an alley-oop to senior forward Jericho Sims during an 11-0 run in the second half.
Sims finished the game with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting and added eight rebounds, along with some typically stellar defense.
Senior guard Matt Coleman had some difficult moments in the second half, including three turnovers, but also hit all four field-goal attempts in scoring 10 of his 15 points in the final 20 minutes.
What this the best performance for the Longhorns since the recent COVID issues?
“Yes,” Coleman replied.
Head coach Shaka Smart frequently mentions the need for his team to lose themselves in the fight and Texas was able to do that on Saturday. At one point in the second half, freshman forward Greg Brown III looked up and wondered about the score — he was having so much fun out on the court that he didn’t know the margin at the time.
Brown had four turnovers and still needs to improve his footwork, but he was still effective in scoring 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting by hitting all three of his three-point attempts. Over the last two games, he’s hit seven of his last eight after a difficult start to his college career from beyond the arc.
Texas also benefited from a lineup that included Brown, Sims, and sophomore forward Kai Jones playing together, but Smart pointed to the team’s connectedness as the biggest development of the day.
“Good to see our guys connected out there and our bench connected for that matter,” Smart said. “I thought all 11 our guys were really engaged in the game and just our team spirit was better than it’s been for quite a while — we’ve really challenged our guys on that over the last few days.”
Just as important was the way that Texas responded to stretches during which the two TCU lead guards started to heat up. In the first half, RJ Nembhard scored 10 points in less than two minutes. He only scored five points in the other 34 minutes he played. Early in the second half, Mike Miles scored six points in two and a half minutes. By the time Miles scored again, with five minutes remaining, it cut the Texas lead to 13 points.
While Ramey and Coleman both stepped up defensively, Smart was also pleased with the ability of Sims to impact the pick and roll better than he has in recent games.
Still searching to snap out of their recent slog, Texas was sloppy out of the gates, committing three early turnovers as TCU stole a quick 5-0 lead. In a bit of a sign of the offensive excitement to come, though, a triple from Brown and a highlight jam from Sims evened the action back up, and with some help from some swarming defense, four turnovers in four minutes led to only two TCU points.
Coleman cashed in with a three of his own to cap an 8-0 Texas lead, but Nembhard shouldered the offensive load early for the Horned Frogs, surging for 10 of their first 15 points to capture a 15-12 lead. However, the Horns adjusted and kept Nembhard out of the scoring column throughout the rest of the first half, which allowed Texas to start taking control.
And when they did, they did so emphatically.
After Coleman found Sims for his second highlight jam of the afternoon, Kai Jones found Andrew Jones in transition, who skied for two of his game-best 13 first-half points.
TCU maintained the pace momentarily with a Terren Frank three knotting the contest at 21, but back-to-back TCU turnovers allowed Andrew Jones to rip off a personal 5-0 run of his own. Moments later, Andrew Jones found a rolling Sims, who found a slashing Kai Jones for yet another thunderous dunk, headlining what became a 9-0 Texas run before a Chuck O’Bannon Jr. three marked TCU’s first made bucket in their previous nine attempts.
Not to be outdone, Brown answered with his second three of the half to push Texas to the brink of a double-digit cushion, 33-24. Meanwhile, with the help of three free throws, TCU was able to trim just one point off that edge before the break, as a strong half from the Texas starters saw the Horns leading 37-29 at halftime.
The tide initially turned against Texas coming out of the break, though.
Unlike during the first 20 minutes when Texas put on a personal dunk contest, easy opportunities at the rim were few and far between as TCU contested everything and it was Texas that went through a bit of a shooting slump. On the other end of the floor, the opposite was true, as 10 points from Miles and Jaedon LeDee slashed the Texas lead down to just one possession. That was, at least, until Andrew Jones resurfaced, capitalizing on back-to-back TCU turnovers and turning those into four more points at the rim.
Then it was Brown was once again joined the fun, leaping for a poster jam over Kevin Samuel to cap a 6-0 run before Brown followed that up by drawing a charge on the other end.
Again, Frank responded with a three to spark a 5-0 TCU run to keep the Horned Frogs involved, 49-45, and then again, Andrew Jones added to his total with another two, sparking a 6-2 Texas run to give the Horns some much-needed breathing room, 55-47.
Texas wasted little time turning that breathing room into a comfortable — and ultimately insurmountable — cushion.
After being held scoreless throughout much of the contest, Ramey splashed a mid-range jumper for his first bucket, giving Texas its first double-digit lead in the process, 57-47. He followed that up by finding Sims for the alley-oop jam, and then yet again by finishing through a foul for a physical and-one floater.
Just like that, a sudden surge from Ramey led to a late 11-0 Texas run and 62-47 lead.
Nembhard snapped out of his own slump with a timely three to trim the lead back to 10, 62-52, only to see Brown answer with his third three on the other and to keep the margin comfortable.
Moments later, after another TCU turnover, Coleman effectively ended the contest, connecting on a turnaround fadeaway jumper for the 67-54 edge with just over two minutes remaining.
TCU added only one more point to its total, while Kai Jones slashed for the exclamation jam in what finished as a 70-55 Longhorns win.
Aside from Ramey (5), who powered Texas to a critical late run, all of Texas’ starters finished in double figures, led by Andrew Jones’ 19.
With their second straight win, Texas improves to 13-5 on the season ahead of a significant Tuesday evening road trip against No. 12 Oklahoma as the Longhorns played five games in 11 days with NCAA tournament seeding on the line.
Smart believes that the team has battled some fatigue in recent weeks. It’s understandable, given the circumstances, but how the Longhorns respond will define the season.
“What we have to do is lose ourselves in the fight and the only way I know to do that is by focusing on the people around you and doing it together,” Smart said. “I thought the guys did a great job of that — not just the guys in the game — but the guys on the bench for us and that makes a big difference.”