With losses in three of the last four games, the No. 23 Texas Longhorns needed a win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Saturday at the Erwin Center and pulled out an ugly 56-51 victory. Ugly as it was, Texas played hard and with a level of tenacity.
“Credit to coach Beard and his team,” Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton said. “They played like they were determined today. From the outside looking in, they played like their backs were against the wall.”
Sitting at 3-3 in Big 12 play with a backloaded conference schedule still looming, it’s fair to say that Texas did have their backs against the wall.
Four players scored in double figures for the Longhorns, led by senior guard Marcus Carr’s 14 points on 8-of-8 free-throw shooting in the game’s final 6:16 — Texas scored 10 of its final 12 points at the line to hold off a late comeback attempt by Oklahoma State.
Junior forward Tre Mitchell added 12 points in his best performance since late December against UIW, hitting a banked shot from near the free-throw line with 56 seconds remaining in a three-point game.
Four turnovers marred an otherwise solid performance by senior forward Timmy Allen, who scored 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting with eight rebounds and three assists.
Turnovers were a problem for the Longhorns overall — Texas managed to survive 20 giveaways that led to 21 points for Oklahoma State and finished with only 18 made field goals, though all those free throws late certainly helped to make up for the lack of made baskets. Against a top-10 defense in adjusted efficiency, the Horns struggled to shoot efficiently, hitting only 36.7 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three-point range.
Fortunately, the defense came through against a bad offensive team missing its leading scorer, guard Bryce Williams. Oklahoma State only made two three-pointers on 37.5-percent shooting overall, helping Texas overcome seven more field-goal attempts from the opponents.
Texas got off to a scorching fast start, no doubt a point of emphasis after head coach Chris Beard felt like the Horns took some hard punches from the Wildcats on Tuesday and failed to respond. At the 17:06 mark, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton had to call a timeout following a three by Carr as Texas raced out to an 11-0 lead by hitting all its first three three-point attempts and 4-of-6 shots.
By the first media timeout, things were going so well for the Longhorns that when Allen was trapped on the baseline without his dribble, when he tried to throw the ball off a defender, it went right to senior forward Christian Bishop for an easy dunk.
Four straight turnovers after the under-16 timeout helped sap the Texas momentum, contributing to a stretch of 16 straight points for Oklahoma State as shots stopped falling for the home team during a scoring drought of 10:15 thanks to empty possession after empty possession. Turnovers, missed shots, an inability to deal with a zone defense by the Cowboys — it was an another display of abject offensive ineptitude for the Longhorns, a far too common occurrence this season.
When Carr finally hit a three, it broke a stretch of 17 possessions with eight turnovers and zero points. When Allen was later fouled on a made basket, he took the first free throw of the first half for the Longhorns with 1:33 remaining. So Texas was hardly aggressive enough in demanding shooting fouls over the opening 20 minutes.
Texas finished the half down 27-25 after more turnovers (10) than made baskets (nine) on 4-of-19 shooting (21 percent) following those first five made baskets.
Early in the second half, Allen was benched after his fourth turnover, so Beard turned to senior guard Andrew Jones, who promptly turned the ball over twice. Jones did not score in the game and turned the ball over three times.
Fortunately for Texas, Oklahoma State missed its first seven field-goal attempts after halftime with three turnovers. By the under-12 timeout, the Cowboys only had two second-half field goals, but trailed by a single point.
An 11-3 run in the second half for Texas was the difference in the game, keyed by the presence of junior guard Brock Cunningham and a better floor game by Allen combined with tough team defense and strong defensive rebounding.
Cunningham didn’t play until the second half and didn’t score, but made a noticeable difference in the game and had an important assist to senior guard Courtney Ramey for a corner three to give Texas a seven-point lead with 6:45 remaining.
“Brock does a great job of doing whatever is necessary to win,” Allen said. Beard called him the game’s MVP for his 10 minutes on the court. It was only the second time in the last six games that Cunningham has played 10 or more minutes.
Texas travels to Fort Worth on Tuesday to face TCU.