The experienced No. 21 Texas Longhorns couldn’t withstand a swarming defensive effort by the No. 15 Iowa State Cyclones in a 79-70 loss in Ames on Saturday, stymying the latest attempt by the Longhorns to finally secure a Q1 win.
Texas turned the ball over a season-high 20 times, including 13 times in the first half as Iowa State built a seven-point lead heading into halftime. Just as importantly, the Cyclones took advantage of the turnovers by the Longhorns, turning them into 23 points with 13 fast-break points overall.
Head coach TJ Otzelberger’s team entered the game forcing turnovers on 26.0 percent of opposing possessions and where even better on Saturday as Texas gave the ball away on 29.4 percent of their possessions, surpassing the previous season high of 22.9 percent in last Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater. At the under-four timeout in the first half, the Longhorns had a turnover rate of 50 percent on their 24 possessions.
“Obviously turnovers were a big, big problem for us,” Beard said. “In both halves — that was the story of the game from our perspective.”
Junior forward Tre Mitchell had a particularly difficult day as he tries to work his way back into rhythm after a brief stint in health and safety protocols, giving the ball away four times in 16 minutes and finishing minus-12.
After the game, Beard struggled to understand the turnovers by Mitchell and his other forwards, including three by junior Dylan Disu.
“Nine of them come from our forwards,” Beard said. “We can’t have that. Their jobs is not to turn the ball over.”
Sophomore guard Devin Askew struggled, too, getting benched for most of the second half after his third turnover.
Given the experience level of this Texas team, the lack of poise was concerning as the Horns struggled to deal with traps on ball screens and double teams on catches in the paint for bigs like Mitchell.
Meanwhile, the Texas defense wasn’t able to disrupt an extremely average Iowa State offense, allowing 56.9 shooting from the field and 43.5 percent shooting from three-point range. Limiting the effectiveness of Gabe Kalscheur was a particular problem for the Longhorns, as Marcus Carr’s old teammate scored a game-high 22 points on 6-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc.
Securing 10 offensive rebounds helped make up for the turnover differential in terms of shots taken by both teams, but this Texas group just doesn’t have enough margin for error at the moment to consistently win games without the defense providing an advantage by forcing turnovers and the offense taking care of the basketball.
Foul trouble for Texas senior forward Timmy Allen didn’t help, either — he was called for two fouls within the game’s first 16 seconds and finished with four, limiting him to 12 minutes. As usual, Allen was efficient when he was on the court, scoring eight points on four shots, it just wasn’t the impact that the Longhorns needed with Mitchell struggling and senior forward Christian Bishop matching Mitchell’s minus-12 in 15 ineffective minutes.
The guards weren’t able to pick up enough of the slack, though senior Andrew Jones was effective offensively with 18 points while adding seven rebounds and two blocks. Fellow seniors Carr and Courtney Ramey combined to shoot 7-of-23 with Carr turning the ball over four times. The first half was particularly rough for Carr, featuring three of his four turnovers and a minus-14 mark.
“It definitely falls a lot on my shoulders,” Carr said. “I have to be the one who calm them down and didn’t play well tonight.”
Texas head coach Chris Beard was frustrated enough with his guards to play walk-on Tristen Licon for 11 minutes in the second half, along with six minutes for Avery Benson. The gambit didn’t exactly fail as Carr scored five quick points and became more aggressive offensively, but it didn’t exactly work, either, as both players finished even in their initial time on the court as the Longhorns missed some good looks, including a put-back attempt and an open three by Licon.
It wasn’t until around the under-eight timeout that Texas finally went on a run as Allen finished in the open court through contact, Jones scored on an offensive rebound when Allen missed his free throw, and Carr hit two free throws. With Texas in the bonus, Allen made two free throws to cut the Iowa State lead to six before the Cyclones hit a desperate banked three to beat the shot clock. The Longhorns cut the lead to five on two free throws from Ramey, but Kalscheur hit a three as the Cyclones responded once again.
Then Texas suffered another scoring drought late in the game, going three minutes without a basket and only making one field goal over a stretch of five minutes. Free throws kept the Horns from losing too much ground to the Cyclones, but facing a significant margin, Texas needed more than that as Iowa State went 4-of-5 shooting during that key stretch, resulting in the attempted comeback by the Longhorns never seriously threatening the home team.