Down by one point with seven seconds remaining, the No. 19 Texas Longhorns had just forced a crucial shot-clock violation by the Louisville Cardinals to preserve a chance at victory in the opener of the Saatva Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon.
So Longhorns head coach Rodney Terry made the smart decision, running an out-of-bounds set to get the NCAA’s leading active scorer Max Abmas the ball with an opportunity to win the game. The senior Oral Roberts transfer did exactly that, dribbling to his right with the clock ticking down and draining a jumper from the elbow for an 81-80 win to set up a matchup in the finals against No. 5 UConn on Monday.
In the first game for Abmas as a Power Five player against another Power Five opponent, the 6’0, 175-pounder struggled offensively and defensively, hitting only 6-of-18 shots heading into the final possession, including 2-of-10 shooting from three that featured some strange decision making — with 2:25 remaining, Abmas missed a pullup three only eight seconds into the shot clock before turning down an open three after an offensive rebound on a possession that ended with a shot-clock violation.
Nonetheless, the clutch shotmaking from Abmas helped Texas escape a bad loss against a Louisville program that won only four games last season, lost an exhibition game against a Division II school, and then fell to Chattanooga nine days ago.
The Cardinals hung in a game that featured 14 tie scores and 21 lead changes thanks in large part to a plus-10 advantage in made free throws and big performances from Skyy Clark and Tre White. Clark in particular turned in a surprising effort — after starting the season by missing all eight of his three-point attempts over the first three games, Clark was not only efficient from beyond the arc in making 4-of-6 threes, he was also clutch, hitting a corner three with 1:48 remaining to take a two-point lead and a three off the bounce 27 seconds later for another two-point lead.
A 2-of-17 shooting performance from three put the Longhorns in a difficult position as junior guard Tyrese Hunter and sophomore forward Dillon Mitchell both struggled with foul trouble. Having to manage the minutes of Mitchell was especially troublesome for Texas without senior forward Dylan Disu and with senior forward Kadin Shedrick dealing with an aggravation to his surgically-repaired right shoulder that left his status in question heading into the game.
Despite playing through pain, Shedrick helped position the Horns for the game-winning shot, not only with his defensive effort on the final possession by the Cardinals, but by his steady post presence to calm an offense unable to effectively space the court with its outside shooting.
The game-high 27 points by Shedrick were also a career high, surpassing a 20-point performance that, coincidentally, also came against Louisville in 2022. The Virginia transfer was 11-of-15 shooting, led the team in free-throw attempts, and added seven rebounds, three steals, and a block.
Beyond Abmas and Shedrick, senior guard IT Horton was the only other Texas player to score in double digits with 10 points, but he also missed all three of his three-point attempts.
As a team, the Longhorns only turned the ball over five times, reversing a concerning trend to start the season, and produced a 14-2 advantage in fast-break points and a 16-4 edge in points off turnovers, two critical areas that kept Texas in the game despite the poor shooting from beyond the arc.
Monday’s matchup against the Huskies tips at 6 p.m. Central on ESPNU in a much more significant challenge for a Longhorns team that closes out the non-conference schedule with mostly soft opponents.