Behind a season-high 28 points from forward Dylan Disu, including 10 in the final 4:32, the No. 2-seed Texas Longhorns held off a late rally by the No. 10-seed Penn State Nittany Lions in Des Moines to advance to the program’s first Sweet 16 in 15 years.
Disu made 14-of-20 shots in an efficient performance, adding 10 rebounds and two steals to pace the Longhorns in a game Texas only made a single three-point attempt. Guard Sir’Jabari Rice added 13 points and guard Marcus Carr scored 10 for the Horns, who shot 50.8 percent from the field despite the struggles from beyond the arc and only turned the ball over five times. Thanks in large part to the efforts of Disu, Texas also held a 40-24 advantage in points in the paint.
Penn State also struggled from three, hitting only 8-of-28 attempts, and was forced into one-on-one play against a Texas defense that typically declined to rotate to provide help, resulting in just six assists on 25 made baskets for the Nittany Lions. The defense was particularly effective against Penn State guard Jalen Pickett, the team’s assist leader who was held to a single assist and forced into seven turnovers by Texas.
The game started with a good and bad omen. The bad omen? Penn State guard Andrew Funk, who made eight threes against Texas A&M, got an open look from deep. The good news? He missed it. In definitely good news for the Longhorns, Disu started hot for a fifth straight game, hitting his first two shots and creating two steals with hustle on the defensive end, aiding a 6-0 run that gave Texas a 9-4 lead at the under-16 timeout.
Penn State started by missing its first three three-points, but so did Texas, with the major difference between the two teams in the early going more active defense by the Longhorns and three offensive rebounds by the higher-seeded team.
But Texas cooled off after the first media break in the midst of missing six straight shots until forward Timmy Allen made a layup on a nice find by Disu after forward Christian Bishop forced a turnover. Fortunately for the Longhorns, the Nittany Lions were cold from the field, too, starting 3-of-11 overall, including 0-of-5 from three.
The first three for Penn State finally fell with 11:43 remaining as Texas went into another scoring drought ended on a drive by guard Tyrese Hunter after more than four minutes without a basket. It was the start of a 6-0 run for the Horns that featured better offensive execution leading into a stretch where both teams made three consecutive baskets.
Six straight points by Disu and a jumper by Carr helped the Longhorns close the half strong with a 31-23 lead after the Nittany Lions shot only 34.6 percent from the field and 15.4 percent from three while holding Pickett to five points with five turnovers and zero assists.
A layup by Disu to open the second half pushed the margin into double digits for the first time, the first of four straight made baskets for the Longhorns. Even while the offense remained effective by Texas, the defense suffered from several breakdowns as Funk scored five straight points, including a wide-open three on Pickett’s first assist of the game. When Penn State scored a layup on a broken play, acting head coach Rodney Terry called a timeout with the margin down to four points thanks to a 5-of-6 shooting stretch for the Nittany Lions.
One of Terry’s changes was substituting Bishop into the game, who quickly made a difference by tapping in a missed layup by Carr, challenging a shot defensively, and then tipping the ball to a teammate for a rebound.
After 11 misses from three to start the game, the Longhorns finally hit one with 8:32 remaining, necessary to keep pace with the Nittany Lions, who made three straight during that stretch.
Then Penn State made its run, scoring six straight points to make it a one-point game when Pickett picked up his fourth foul on the offensive end. The run continued with two free throws and a layup after a steal that prompted another timeout by Terry as the Nittany Lions took their first lead since early in the game.
It was Disu who came through once again, breaking the scoring drought on a drive, hitting a short jumper, and then making a turnaround shot in the post as the shot clock expired. An over-and-back violation was costly for Penn State when Carr hit a driving layup high off the glass and Disu made a push shot in the lane to make it a 10-0 run. Disu scored again, this time on a layup, to put the Nittany Lions down by seven with 34 seconds remaining. After Penn State made a layup, Rice went to the line for a one-and-one, hitting both.
Texas looked like it had the game in hand, but Carr missed his first free throw and Penn State hit a three on the other end while drawing a foul on Carr, completing the three-point play to make it a three-point game. Carr made up for the mistakes by making two free throws with 4.1 seconds remaining and that sealed the win for the Longhorns.
No. 3-seed Xavier faces No. 11-seed Pittsburgh on Sunday at 11 a.m. Central with the winner advancing to face Texas in the Sweet 16.