A 10-0 run that spanned most of nine minutes between the first half and second half pushed the win probability for the No. 3 seed Texas Longhorns to over 90 percent against the No. 14 seed Abilene Christian Wildcats in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
So how did the Longhorns end up losing 53-52 after taking a nine-point lead only 47 seconds into the half?
Coming out of halftime, sophomore forward Kai Jones continued the momentum generated by a dunk that marked the final points of the first half by hitting a fadeaway jumper from near the free-throw line and then using an impressive Euro step to score on a drive from the corner.
With those two quick baskets, the Longhorns stretched the five-point halftime lead to the game’s largest margin. With a couple defensive stops and another basket or two, Texas had a chance to take control of the game by wresting away some critical confidence from the underdog and taking control on the scoreboard.
Instead, senior guard Matt Coleman missed a driving layup after a steal by redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones and the Wildcats made the Longhorns pay with one of 18 offensive rebounds in the game after a three-point attempt that hit the side of the backboard. The putback by Coryon Mason, who aggravated a previous ankle injury at the end of the first half, sparked a quick surge by the senior guard.
How does a No. 14 seed upset a No. 3 seed? By chunking balls at the backboard that quickly turn into layups. pic.twitter.com/xq7Z9Qc4eC— Wescott Eberts (@SBN_Wescott) March 21, 2021
On the ensuing Texas possession, junior guard Courtney Ramey dribbled into middle and rose up for a jump shot, but instead of taking the open look, he tried to pass to senior forward Jericho Sims, who was attempting to position himself for a potential offensive rebound after seeing Ramey leave his feet. The pass sailed out of bounds.
Late in the shot clock after the turnover, Mason dribbled into the paint against Ramey and initiated contact as Ramey reached for the ball, finishing with the foul and making the free throw.
Texas recovered briefly when Andrew Jones found Sims for a dunk with 17:37 remaining, but the Horns failed to score another field goal until a driving layup from Coleman almost eight minutes later.
During that stretch, Abilene Christian went on a 13-2 surge that ultimately served as the decisive run of play.
In a game that featured a season-high 23 turnovers, Texas giveaways loomed large in that narrative.
Kai Jones was called for traveling when attempting a step-back three. Ramey attempted a weak pass against a strong hedge by 6’5, 265-pound Airion Simmons that turned into a putback when Simmons missed his layup in transition. Coleman was called for a travel and Makhi Morris hit a three-pointer that rattled around the rim before falling. Senior guard Jase Febres tried to throw the ball from the corner to the rim through multiple defenders and Abilene Christian scored in the paint on an absurd bank shot late in the shot clock that forced a Texas timeout.
Chunking the ball at the backboard from straight away is a better play than doing it as a corner three, but equally effective. Sometimes. pic.twitter.com/fvmcTfseCT— Wescott Eberts (@SBN_Wescott) March 21, 2021
The Longhorns didn’t respond.
Ramey missed a jumper from the baseline and Reggie Miller hit a tough shot. Coleman turned the ball over and Joe Pleasant made another late-clock basket, somehow getting this shot past Sims and onto the backboard.
If you can hit this shot over Jericho Sims, your free-throw percentage doesn't matter that much when you step to the line with the game in the balance. pic.twitter.com/gE4CxqvN9J— Wescott Eberts (@SBN_Wescott) March 21, 2021
By that point, Texas was down 41-36 with 11:10 remaining after getting outscored 18-4 over the previous eight minutes. Eventually the Longhorns managed to recover and take the lead when Andrew Jones hit from three with 15 seconds remaining, but in the end couldn’t overcome the two free throws by Pleasant.
Every big upset in the NCAA Tournament requires that one key stretch when the underdog just plays out of their mind long enough to create the final outcome, even if it’s by the absolute slimmest of margins, as it was on Saturday in Indianapolis.
For a Texas team with high expectations coming into the tournament, in large part because of the experienced lead guards, the fact that Abilene Christian pulled off that run is all the more disappointing because there was a small window to put the Wildcats away. Shaka Smart’s team missed it.
Not only that, but Smart’s guys, the guards to whom he affords so much freedom and in whom he has invested so much, didn’t just fail to come through during that eight-minute stretch — they were overmatched by the moment.
It took some blind luck for Abilene Christian to take advantage, but throwing prayers at the backboard and hoping for some miracles is always a more effective strategy than turning the ball over constantly.
And March is, after all, a time for such miracles.