Coming off three losses and without a truly elite defense for the first time in several seasons, the Red Raiders simply played with a higher level of desperation, especially on the defensive end in holding Texas to 20-percent shooting in the second half and 34.7 percent overall.
“I thought Tech played with really good edge today,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “They played like a team that truly had to give to desperation and I think this time of year, that’s a huge, huge advantage, especially when you go on the road you have to match that, you have to exceed that if you want to win.”
The Longhorns did not for significant stretches of the game.
A three-pointer by redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones in transition cut the Texas Tech lead to three points and forced a timeout with 3:20 remaining, but Texas wasn’t able to get any closer than that. Out of the timeout, senior guard Matt Coleman was called for a questionable foul on Texas Tech’s Mac McClung late in the shot clock, the second time down the stretch that McClung benefited from a friendly whistle after drawing three foul shots by jumping into sophomore forward Kai Jones.
The game changed even further on the ensuing Texas possession when Jones attempted a contested three early in the shot clock that missed badly and led to a transition foul on Andrew Jones. Texas Tech guard Kyler Edwards made both free throws, starting a stretch a 8-for-10 free-throw shooting by the Red Raiders down the stretch that sealed the game.
Meanwhile, Texas couldn’t take advantage of several opportunities to keep the game close in the final seconds — junior guard Courtney Ramey missed a layup at the rim, Coleman turned the ball over trying to dribble into traffic, and senior forward Jericho Sims only made one free throw after he nearly finished a dunk attempt through contact.
Along with a foul in transition that kept Kai Jones from dunking — a play that Smart thought was a flagrant foul because the Texas Tech defender was behind Jones and not able to make a play on the ball in committing the dangerous foul — Smart noted that as difficult as it may be to finish those chances, the inability to do so can add up and make a big difference in the game.
On Saturday, that was unequivocally the case for the Longhorns, who weren’t able take advantage of the chances at the free-throw line, hitting 18-of-27 attempts.
Down the stretch, several desperation shots missed the mark as the Longhorns went the final 3:22 without a made field goal.
It wasn’t the only stretch of offensive ineptitude in the second half for Texas — a tied game at 33-33 coming out of halftime turned quickly in favor of the home team as the Longhorns missed their first 11 field-goal attempts of the second half and struggled defensively with the Red Raiders scoring on eight of nine possessions early in the second half.
“We had some terrific defensive possessions and I thought we had some terrible defensive possessions,” Smart said.
Texas Tech had eight assists on 11 second-half field goals as Texas looked uncertain about their pick-and-roll coverages, an unacceptable development for an experienced team after starting the game by forcing four turnovers in the first five minutes. How does his team come out of halftime and not understand the called coverages? One or two mistakes are understandable — those things happen — but there was a distinct lack of communication defensively through the game’s most decisive stretch.
Eight offensive rebounds by the Red Raiders in the second half hurt, too — Texas Tech didn’t take advantage by scoring many points on those chances, but the lost possessions hurt even with the poor shooting.
Most of the damage from Texas Tech came in the paint, with the Red Raiders scoring 20 points around the rim in the second half with only one made three-pointer.
With Texas struggling for long stretches to get into the paint, the Horns needed some threes to fall, but Ramey and Andrew Jones combined for 2-for-10 shooting from deep. Overall, the two were 2-for-18 shooting.
Sims led Texas with 11 points on five shots, but Texas didn’t get him the ball enough as the guards struggled — the only other player to score in double digits was Coleman, who finished with 10 points and six assists on only six shots.
Texas Tech was able to take away some opportunities for Sims by sending multiple defenders at him on the catch, but with the Red Raiders often switching on screens, there were times when the Longhorns had mismatches and the big didn’t get the ball.
“Throughout the game when we did look to throw it up to our bigger guys, we had some advantages,” Smart said.
The result was too many possessions during which the Longhorns shot the ball early in the shot clock and didn’t move the ball well enough against the no-middle defense employed by the Red Raiders.
“I thought the whole game we were forcing some shots before we needed to,” Smart said. “We were not in the flow that we needed to be in to continue moving the ball and it obviously caught up with us in the second half with the way we shot the ball — need to be much much better on offense.”
Texas was 5-of-25 shooting in the second half and missed 12 of its 14 three-point attempts.
“I thought our, our level of willingness to just keep moving and keep attacking was not good enough today,” Smart said.
Add it all up and against a team that played with a high level of desperation in front of 4,250 fans at United Supermarkets Arena, Texas just didn’t have enough mental fortitude.
“I thought we had such good poise the other night against Kansas — and the comeback was good, the guys really battled and fought him to come back — but for parts of the game today, we kind of got out of sorts on the stuff that we needed to do,” Smart said. “So, that’s something that we need to coach and our guys need to understand it’s who we have to be if we want to win.”