AUSTIN, Texas — A season-high 25 points from senior guard Marcus Carr, including 19 points in the second half, wasn’t enough for the No. 23 Texas Longhorns, who dropped to 3-3 in Big 12 play with a 66-65 loss at the Erwin Center on Tuesday in front of what Texas head coach Chris Beard called the season’s best home crowd.
Carr carried the Longhorns in the second half, at one point making six consecutive shots and his first five free throws, but was unable to come up with the game-winning basket, a contested jumper along the baseline just before time expired.
“I pride myself on delivering in those moments and I didn’t today,” a disappointed Carr said after the game.
It wasn’t until the 11:59 mark of the second half that Carr started showing signs of being able to take over the game.
He’d made his first field goal several minutes before after a poor start to the game that included an airballed open three and an airmailed pass out of bounds early in the second half, giving him four turnovers for the game. Beard stuck with him, however, a sign of the extent to which the Texas head coach understands how important Carr playing through mistakes is for the team’s growth and ultimate potential in the postseason.
The approach worked as Carr almost single-handedly kept Texas in the game, scoring 17 of 19 points for the Longhorns and 19 of the final 25 points in the second half. In fact, after junior forward Tre Mitchell scored the first five points of the second half for Texas, only Carr and senior forward Timmy Allen scored over the final 17-plus minutes.
As a team, the Horns simply couldn’t finish, missing their final four shots and seven of the final eight, allowing the Wildcats to close on a 6-0 run when Texas failed to score over the last 3:32 of the game. Beard blamed a lack of aggressiveness in getting to the free-throw line, but some misses loomed large, too.
While Allen added 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field, he also missed two crucial free throws when Texas trailed by three points with 2:26 remaining. Carr missed a free throw, too, just before the under-four media timeout, his only miss of the game on 12 attempts.
The lack of support for those two players was also glaring. Senior guards Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey spent most of the game in foul trouble and both players only managed to score five points apiece with Ramey missing six of his eight field-goal attempts, including four of his five three-point tries. Most of Ramey’s attempts from beyond the arc were good looks, the type that the 38.1-percent three-point shooter entering the game has made over his Texas career. They just didn’t fall on Tuesday.
“We were missing that third, fourth guy tonight to have a big game to win a Big 12 game like this,” Beard said.
Past Allen, the lack of contributions in the frontcourt were glaring once again, too. Mitchell scored nine points, but only played four minutes in the second half thanks to a poor defensive effort. Junior forward Dylan Disu saw the court for a mere two minutes after halftime and didn’t score on three shot attempts.
The activity level of senior forward Christian Bishop was much more to liking of Beard — the Creighton transfer recorded eight rebounds, three assists, and two blocks before limping off with a late ankle injury. Bishop just didn’t add much in the scoring column, managing a single basket in his 24 minutes.
“Yes, those guys gotta be a lot more consistent, as do all our guys,” Beard said. “I think with those specific guys, I’d like to see more urgency, competitive spirit. I thought K-State came here tonight and they turned the game into a street fight and we’re willing and able and capable, more than excited to be in a street fight. We had some players on our team tonight that looked like they kind of got punched in the face a few times. We have to be a lot more aggressive. There needs to be an urgency to everybody that plays for us in this league right now.”
The level of urgency extends to the defensive end. Kansas State scored six of its first eight points from offensive rebounds and finished with 13 second-chance points on 12 offensive rebounds. When the Longhorns finally correct those issues on the defensive glass, the Wildcats were able to get to the rim by spacing the court and attacking the basket, either scoring in the paint or kicking out to three-point shooters.
The threes weren’t falling early for Kansas State — the Cats only hit 2-of-10 three-point attempts in the first half, but they were falling after halftime. In shooting 54.2 percent from the field in the second half, Kansas State was 5-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc. For the game, head coach Bruce Weber’s team had a plus-nine advantage from three as Texas finished a paltry 4-of-17 shooting from distance.
Arguably the most harmful three made by the Wildcats came with 7:37 remaining. Disu blocked a shot by Kansas State guard Nijel Pack and dove to the floor to force a jump ball. The possession arrow favored the Wildcats, but only two seconds were left on the shot clock as the teams huddled during the under-eight timeout.
Advanced scouting favored the Horns.
“We know the exact play they’re going to run and we’re supposed to switch that screen,” Beard said. “We just didn’t do it. So we’ve got to continue to get better with our discipline and make the plays that matter most.”
Kansas State guard Marcus Smith splashed in his attempt as the shot clock expired, giving him three of his 22 points on the evening. Pack added 16 points and Mike McGuirl scored 13 points, including two timely threes in the second half, affording the Wildcats the three strong performances they needed to win on the road.
“Just got to stay the course,” Beard said. “It’s a disappointed locker room right now for a lot of reasons, but we’ve just got to stay the course.”
The problem for Texas is that the Longhorns don’t have a Q1 win, just lost the easiest remaining game in Big 12 play, and still haven’t faced Baylor, Kansas, or Texas Tech in their backloaded conference schedule.
So while staying the course may make sense for Beard’s first Texas team, it’s clear that this team needs to improve rapidly to avoid sweating it out on the bubble on Selection Sunday.