AUSTIN, Texas — In front of the largest crowd at the Erwin Center this season, the No. 21 Texas Longhorns recovered from a disappointing performance over the weekend to come through on Tuesday with an impressive win over the Oklahoma Sooners, 66-52.
In a rivalry often defined in recent years by last-second shots from Texas, the 14-point win for the Longhorns was their largest in the series since 2011.
Texas senior guard Andrew Jones continued his strong play against Oklahoma, scoring a season-high 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field and 6-of-7 shooting from the free-throw line in one of best performances of his career. It wasn’t one-dimensional, either — Jones used the pre-game scouting report to good effect by coming up with four steals and flashed his returning athleticism with a block in transition that electrified the home crowd.
“We’ve come a long way, man — we’ve got people asking Andrew Jones about defense during press conferences. This is great,” quipped Texas head coach Chris Beard.
Now more removed from his regular treatments, Jones is starting to feel like his old self again.
“It just feels good just to be fit, playing free — I felt free out there, running, jumping and being athletic, letting my game come back to a way it used to be, so it was fun.”
The contributions offensively were important, though, especially in the second half after Texas went through a long stretch during which the Longhorns only managed one field goal over seven minutes after taking a 20-point lead.
With 4:27 remaining and the margin down to 12 points, Jones came through with a big driving basket late in the shot clock, then finished in the paint once again on a good find by senior guard Marcus Carr, prompting a timeout by the Sooners and a hearty “OU sucks” chant by the fans at the Erwin Center. Not to mention a celebratory shove from Beard.
“Just taking on each other’s personality, letting the relationship start to come into fruition,” Jones said of the exchange with his head coach. “Especially when you start playing well and start to understand what each other wants, both the coaches and the players, you find a balance to where we can win some games.”
Jones received plenty of support on both ends of the court.
Defensively, Texas noticed that Oklahoma players had a tendency to leave their feet while passing, so they took advantage with 11 steals that helped contribute to 10 fast-break points.
Senior forward Christian Bishop had three of those steals, including a diving effort late in the game that left Jones exhorting the crowd to their feet, and another notable defensive effort when he switched onto a guard, stayed in front of the Oklahoma player, then switched onto a big and blocked to shot to force a shot-clock violation.
Texas was also able to limit Sooners star forward Tanner Groves, who entered the game as the team’s leading scorer at 14.3 points per game. Although Groves got into foul trouble that helped limit him to 16 minutes, 10 below his average, he only attempted one field that came with 9:37 remaining to cut the margin to 15 points. Groves finished the game with three points, three turnovers, two rebounds, and three fouls.
The perimeter defense was effective, too, as Texas limited Oklahoma’s best three-point shooter, guard Umoja Gibson, to one made three, and the Sooners overall to 1-of-13 shooting from the beyond the arc.
“The fortunate meter is that tonight they missed some good looks, but I think you got to give our guys credit, too, some of them were contested,” Beard said.
How played out did the word get by the end of the press conference on Tuesday? Beard was diving into his proverbial thesaurus for an alternative, eventually agreeing on assertiveness.
Call it aggressiveness or assertiveness, the result was much needed — Texas got to the free-throw line for the first time at the 17:21 mark of the first half and never relented, especially when shots weren’t falling midway through the second half.
The Longhorns finished with 24 attempts and maintained Beard’s benchmark — more free throws made than free throws attempted by the opponent — until garbage time when the Sooners got into the bonus and Beard’s team lost some of its situational awareness.
The biggest key? One of Beard’s coaching points to demand fouls.
“I know these officials are really good at this level,” Beard said. “If you want to get a foul, you’ve got to go get it, you’ve got to go demand it. You’re not going to get a foul off one foot, you’re not going to get a foul falling away from the basket — I thought we had a couple of those last game — but tonight, from where I was sitting before we watch the film, I thought we demanded it and obviously we got to the free-throw line tonight.”
A balanced offensive performance beyond Jones helped the effort, as senior guard Courtney Ramey scored 10 points with six free-throw attempts and Carr received praise from his head coach for his floor game after scoring nine points and recording five assists. Senior forward Timmy Allen was solid, as ever, with 10 points, and Bishop added 10 points and eight rebounds in his excellent all-around effort.
As the transfers adjust to the reality of Big 12 play, Beard believes that there’s been a learning curve for his team moving from knowing the intensity level necessary to win and going out and doing it on a regular basis.
So perhaps Tuesday’s win against Oklahoma marked the first true victory for this Texas team in conference play. At the least, it was historic in addition to providing the blueprint moving forward.