The third time was the charm for the No. 15 Texas Longhorns.
After dropping each of their regular season matchups against the No. 20 Texas Tech Red Raiders, Texas prevailed to begin the win-or-go-home portion of the season, topping Texas Tech, 67-66, in the final seconds of their Big 12 Tournament meeting behind 19 points and six assists from senior guard Matt Coleman.
The biggest of those 19 points came in the biggest moment of the game — at the free throw line, trailing 66-65 with only 1.8 seconds remaining. Cool, calm, and collected, Coleman cashed in on the first look, and after being iced when Texas Tech called a timeout to plan for their final play, he sank the second, lifting Texas to a 67-66 win capped by senior forward Jericho Sims skying to steal the inbounds pass by the Red Raiders at the buzzer.
“I trust him and I think he trusts me,” Shaka Smart said of his relationship with Coleman. “So, you know, in any relationship, that’s a very, very important component. You know I love seeing him play with great confidence.”
As expected, and as the final score indicates, this Big 12 Tournament-opening meeting was a battle until the bitter end — well, bitter for Chris Beard’s club, but certainly sweet for Shaka Smart’s squad.
“We know just since I’ve been here, anytime you play Tech you know it’s gonna be a grind game,” Coleman said. “It’s gonna go both ways. Both teams are going to play hard and going to be aggressive, and the most aggressive team usually wins.”
Coleman’s game-high 19 points came on 7-of-16 shooting with six assists and two steals. Senior guard Jase Febres added 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting from three-point range while senior forward Jericho Sims and sophomore forward Kai Jones both had efficient performances in combining for 9-of-12 shooting for 20 points, 18 rebounds, and six blocks.
Texas Tech featured an attacking offense and physical defense out of the gates, to which Texas took more than a few minutes to adjust. As Texas settled for perimeter looks, the only answer to Texas Tech’s effort to get the ball inside was four physical points at the rim from Jericho Sims.
After the Horns missed their first three three-pointers, redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones drilled one nearly four minutes into the action, only to see that effort matched and bested by back-to-back triples from Clarence Nadolny and Terrence Shannon Jr., who lifted the Red Raiders to a 15-7 edge as Texas remained sloppy and out of sorts early.
The early woes for Texas weren’t behind them just yet.
After Marcus Santos-Silva finished with a follow-up to cap an 8-0 run, which gave Texas Tech an early double-digit edge, 17-7, Texas junior guard Courtney Ramey committed a charge on the other end, which sent him to the bench with two early fouls. Ramey finished the game without scoring and registered a minus-32 mark during his time on the court.
Sending Ramey to the bench actually spelled good news for Texas, however — into Ramey’s place came Febres, who provided a significant offensive spark with three first-half threes, with two of those pulling Texas back into striking distance, down only 19-16.
“Credit to Jase, man,” Coleman said. “Just having Jase there really gives us a different dynamic, you know, when he’s making shots when he’s guarding. He’s just been tough.”
Moments later, despite the foul and turnover discrepancy heavily favoring the Red Raiders, which saw Texas dig itself into a double-digit deficit, Greg Brown III erased TTU’s lead is highlight fashion, skying for a poster put-back dunk to tie the game at 21.
However, those were Brown’s first and only points on an evening that saw him sidelined for much of the second half, including a trip to the locker room after a frustrating turnover.
In what proved to be a game of runs, though, Texas Tech responded with an 8-1 burst of its own to capture a 30-22 edge. But those were the final points of the half for Chris Beard’s team.
Meanwhile, Coleman took complete control offensively, connecting on a triple at the shot-clock buzzer on one trip, spinning into a floater on the next, and ultimately, displaying his quickness, ball-handling, and finishing ability in one to cap a 12-0 run that gave Texas a 34-30 halftime lead.
Matt Coleman. Sheeeeesh— Jeff Barker (@JeffBarker_) March 12, 2021
A big half of basketball awaits the Longhorns #HookEm pic.twitter.com/qXDmILA9o6
The momentum switched sides immediately coming out of the break as each of first three Texas possessions ended in turnovers that ultimately produced a 7-0 Texas Tech run and thus, a 37-34 Red Raider edge. However, this spurt was more misfortune for the Horns than bad basketball, as evident with a steal from Brown before falling down and a block from Sims that led to a wide open three from Shannon.
It wasn’t until after five turnovers and an 8-0 Texas Tech run to begin the half that Texas finally got back into the scoring column, but they did so in impressive fashion as Coleman dished a beautiful behind-the-back dime to Andrew Jones, who missed the layup before Kai Jones cleaned up with a monster put-back jam.
But in refusing to relent their momentum, the Red Raiders responded with another run — this time a 10-2 stretch — that was defined by a collection of loose balls favoring TTU, offensive woes for Texas, and the Red Raiders simply playing for physical and fighting for every possession.
“The biggest thing is just we have to be more aggressive,” Coleman said. “Like, I think with with the 50-50 balls, with the second-chance points, they were just being tougher than us and it was just telling my teammates, telling myself, this is what we do every day, we got to grind it out, trust each other, and just go after everything. And I think that’s what we did. We made enough plays to win.”
Suddenly, the Red Raider lead had ballooned back to double figures, 48-38, but then back came the Longhorns behind another triple from Febres and another bucket from Coleman, who attacked Mac McClung in an iso to finish at the rim and trim the lead to 49-45.
Moments later, it was more of Coleman taking control, who ripped Kyler Edwards after the inbounds, drew the foul, and connected on another three after his crossover sent Kevin McCullar to the hardwood.
The runs were now in the rear view, and the game became a back-and-forth affair down the stretch.
Andrew Jones drilled a three to tie the action at 51, which Micah Peavy answers were a dunk on the ensuing possession. Kai Jones responded with a three to give Texas the lead, which Edwards recaptured the next time down, only to see Febres do the same on the other end to cap a brief spurt that produced 13 points in a minute and a half and saw four lead changes.
This trend continued for both Texas and Texas Tech, which exchanged buckets and leads — that was, at least, until TTU seemingly took control at a key moment in the game.
After Jericho Sims jammed home another two of his 10 points, Peavy answered with a jumper, and after Andrew Jones failed to do the same, McCullar finished at the rim yet again. That bit of momentum was only exacerbated when Ramey, who finished scoreless and -32 on the night, stepped over the line on the inbounds.
Just like that, Texas Tech seemingly held all of the momentum and a 66-61 edge with four minutes to go. But, of course, Texas Tech wouldn’t score again, and Texas scored just enough.
After finding Kai Jones for a reverse layup with 1:48 remaining, Coleman bursted past the defense on the next possession, finishing with a quick layup to bring Texas within one, 66-65. In hopes of responding, Shannon attacked the rim, but Brock Cunningham defended it excellently, ripping the ball away and keeping his feet inbounds just long enough to deliver a pass to Andrew Jones to spark a transition break.
The break didn’t produce any points after Jones missed a transition layup and then a three following a Coleman offensive rebound, but Shannon deflected the ball out of bounds with 16.8 seconds.
Coleman completed the comeback.
As we’ve seen time and time again, Coleman took advantage of an iso matchup. The rest is history, and now, Texas moves on to meet the Kansas Jayhawks in the Big 12 semifinal on Thursday evening.
“It’s always a war against those guys, you know,” Smart said. “I take my hat off to Tech. They were at a high level with their aggressiveness and their toughness, the way they battle the way they offensive rebounded. They turned us over 20 times. Impressive, impressive game by them. We struggled for a lot of the game, but I thought the way that our guys fought back from deficits in both halfs showed a lot of resolve. Key contributions from a lot of guys, and then we had you know a couple guys who it wasn’t their night, so we need to quickly turn the page, obviously got a great team coming up tomorrow.”
Texas returns to the T-Mobile Center court on Friday with an 8:30 p.m. Central tipoff against No. 2 seed Kansas.