DJ Augustin. Damion James. AJ Abrams.
If those names sound like the distant past, it’s true — 15 years ago, those were the last group of players who helped the Longhorns reach the Sweet 16, leading Texas to the Elite Eight and a loss to Derrick Rose and Memphis.
On Saturday in Des Moines, an assistant on that team, acting head coach Rodney Terry, will lead the No. 2-seed Texas Longhorns against the No. 10-seed Penn State Nittany Lions with the program’s first Sweet 16 berth since 2008 on the line.
Texas advanced to the second round for the second consecutive year with a 81-61 win over No. 15-seed Colgate, led by a career-high seven threes from guard Sir’Jabari Rice, who came up one short of the school’s NCAA Tournament record set by Abrams in 2009 against Minnesota in the first round. Rice scored a game-high 23 points in making the Raiders pay for their decision to go under ball screens early in the game.
After the 12:50 mark of the first half, the Longhorns never trailed.
“We wanted to make sure we got off to a good start and not let them have a whole bunch of confidence early,” said guard Marcus Carr, who scored 17 points on 4-of-6 shooting from three-point range. “They’re a great shooting team, so we didn’t want to give them any early good looks so that they got confidence and were knocking down shots all game.”
The nation’s best three-point shooting team entering the game at 40.9 percent, Colgate made only three all game, a season low, as Texas successfully executed the gameplan by Terry and his staff of running the Raiders off the line and forcing them to win
“We knew coming into this game that they could beat us with threes, but they would have a hard time beating us with twos, so we wanted them to make really tough twos. They’ve worked the paint a little bit with [Keegan] Records in the post. We were willing to live with that as opposed to those guys shooting threes and making threes. We got back in transition, did a great job taking away threes and transition,” Terry said.
“We knew this was a big shooter defense game and we had to get back and have active hands and take their shots away. I think we were able to do that in this game and it really helped us in a big way.
Colgate finished with only six assists on 25 made baskets and scored just four fast-break points.
Terry could potentially solidify his claim to the permanent head coaching job at Texas with a win over Penn State, which definitively ended any chance of a rivalry game in the second round between the Longhorns and Aggies with a decisive 76-59 victory that included 13 made threes, including eight by guard Andrew Funk, who scored 27 points.
The Nittany Lions are a unique matchup, starting five players 6’6 or under and rarely using more than six players. One of the hottest teams in the country, Penn State has won nine of its last 11 games, a stretch that featured an improbable run to the Big Ten Championship game. Like the Raiders, the Nittany Lions feature one of the nation’s best offenses, ranking No. 11 in adjusted efficiency and No. 5 in three-point shooting percentage (39.0 percent). Head coach Micah Shrewsberry’s team doesn’t turn the ball over, doesn’t send opponents to the free-throw line, and cleans up on the defensive glass.
But Penn State also doesn’t produce many extra possessions, doesn’t score in transition, doesn’t get to the free-throw line, and opts to get back on defense rather than crashing the offensive glass. Defensively, the Nittany Lions don’t block shots and rarely force turnovers.
So Texas could gain an advantage in shot volume if the nation’s No. 3 defense in adjusted efficiency over the last 10 games can force more turnovers than normal for Penn State, gain extra possessions with offensive rebounds, and get to the free-throw line by working the ball inside against the undersized Nittany Lions. Forward Dylan Disu could be a particularly important player — he’s a rim protector with the agility to defend smaller players and has been red hot in the postseason, averaging a team-best 15.3 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game while hitting 25-of-34 (73.5 percent) field goals in four postseason games.
Defensively, Funk isn’t the only player Texas needs to defend closely because guard Camren Wynter hits 41.2 percent from three and guard Seth Lundy hits 40.2 percent. Expect the Horns to once again avoid rotations defensively in an attempt to force Penn State into one-on-one situations, especially lead guard Jalen Pickett, a bruising 6’4, 209-pounder who leads the Nittany Lions in scoring (17.9 per game), rebounds (7.3 per game), assists (6.7 per game), and steals (0.9). Look for forward Timmy Allen and guard Brock Cunningham to receive the assignment of making Pickett a scorer instead of a playmaker for his teammates.
Texas has a 71-percent win probability, according to BartTorvik.com
How to watch
Time: 7:17 p.m. Central
Radio: The Longhorns IMG Radio Network
Livestream: March Madness Live, SlingTV
Odds: Texas is a 5.5-point favorite, according to DraftKings. Odds/lines are subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
Rep the Horns during March Madness with help from Breaking T.