A No. 6 Texas Longhorns team that still hasn’t been able to find a rhythm since recent COVID-19 disruptions turned in an ugly performance that featured 0-for-12 shooting during the two overtime periods of a 75-67 loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater on Saturday.
Only days after shooting 54.9 percent against No. 2 Baylor, Texas shot 25.3 percent in an abysmal showing at Gallagher-Iba Arena, including 5-of-35 shooting from three-point range. The three lead guards — senior Matt Coleman, redshirt junior Andrew Jones, and junior Courtney Ramey — were the primary culprits, combining for only 10-of-49 (20.4 percent) shooting and seven of the team’s 21 turnovers.
“We’re gonna put the ball in their hands regardless of what we’re running and who we’re playing against,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “We’re gonna live with them going and making plays for each other and for their other teammates. Today we had a tough time with that.”
The offensive struggles were a result of several factors. The guards simply didn’t hit open looks, including 2-of-13 shooting from three-point range for Andrew Jones, who had a number of clean shot attempts that he simply couldn’t make. And the team’s poise broke down at times, especially with the ability to take care of the basketball and to remain focused as the lead guards became frustrated with their poor performances.
A 2-3 zone employed by Oklahoma State for much of the game after star freshman guard Cade Cunningham got into foul trouble played a role in that frustration.
“Overall, we did a poor job against it,” Smart said. “We’ll look at the tape and look at what we can do better to try to create more good shots, although I thought we got a lot of really good ones. I didn’t think we finished.”
Even when Texas tried to throw the ball inside, the finishing ability wasn’t there — the Longhorns had more than 60 paint touches, but only hit 10-of-27 layup attempts (37 percent).
Just as the guards struggled, so did the frontcourt. Senior forward Jericho Sims only played four minutes in the second half and had three turnovers overall. Freshman forward Greg Brown III was 2-of-8 shooting and had four turnovers in 20 minutes. Sophomore forward Kai Jones had more positive moments than either, but fouled out in 23 minutes and committed five turnovers of his own.
Some of the errors by Kai Jones were careless — he twice caught passes with a foot out of bounds. Some were errors of commission, like trying to dribble out of traffic after a defensive rebound in the first overtime with the game tied at 63-63. Cunningham stole the ball, drew a foul, made both free throws, and Oklahoma State never trailed for the remainder of the game.
“He’s still a ways away from kind of the finished product of being able to do some things particularly out on the floor on a regular basis, like lead the break or make certain decisions,” Smart said of Kai Jones.
A Cowboys team that was playing without rising freshman forward Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe received spotty play from star freshman guard Cade Cunningham, who dealt with foul trouble for nearly the entire game and only made 5-of-22 field-goal attempts.
When it mattered, though, Cunningham came up big, tying the game in regulation on a three off the dribble with 53 seconds remaining and then hitting another with 1:39 remaining in the second overtime to give Oklahoma State a five-point lead.
Cunningham nearly won the game in the first overtime when he stole an in-bounds pass from Texas redshirt sophomore guard Brock Cunningham before rushing the shot in the lane and missing it.
But the 0-for-12 shooting from the field in the two overtime periods ultimately doomed the Longhorns as Texas appeared to hit a wall physically after all the time off due to COVID-19 complications. Oklahoma State scored 10 of the 12 total points in the second overtime.
The issues offensively overshadowed a bounce-back defensive performance after Smart was frustrated with the effort one that end of the floor against Baylor earlier in the week. Oklahoma State shot 35.3 percent from the field and Texas only allowed five three-pointers in the game. The Longhorns also forced 23 turnovers thanks to a season-high 48 deflections. On eight different occasions, Texas recorded a kill — three defensive stops in a row.
“Overall, frustration because we played hard enough and good enough on the defensive end to beat most teams in the country,” Cunningham said the emotions coming out of the game. “We just couldn’t put it together on the offensive end it costs us.”
With four losses in the last five games, the Longhorns are coming to a crossroads in the season after the strong start. The schedule lightens up this week with a trip to Manhattan to face a Kansas State team that is 1-10 in conference play and then host a TCU team that has lost five of its last six games.
If this Texas team is going to reach its goals this season, it needs to move beyond the recent adversity and start putting together more complete performances.