AUSTIN, Texas — For the first time in more than eight years, the Texas Longhorns finally had a true buzzer beater.
After the No. 9 Baylor Bears hit a game-tying three-pointer with five seconds remaining, Texas junior guard Tyrese Hunter in-bounded the ball to senior forward Dylan Disu, caught the return pass, and streaked down the court at the Moody Center for a layup that kissed off the glass and in before the final buzzer to send the Longhorns to a dramatic, much-needed 75-73 victory over the Bears on Saturday.
“I kind of figured that we weren’t gonna call a timeout because that would have happened right away, so I just knew I had to get down court,” said Hunter after the game. “I already looked at the clock to see how many seconds were left. I was looking for Max [Abmas], but [Dylan] Disu flashed for me and I just knew from there I had to get downhill to either try to make a play or get fouled or I gotta make a layup.”
Hanging in the air against Baylor forward Langston Love, Hunter made the layup, the first game-winning basket as the clock expired for Texas since Javan Felix beat North Carolina at the Erwin Center with a jumper in December 2015. Saturday’s win pushed the Longhorns to 4-0 at the Moody Center against AP top-10 opponents.
Texas head coach Rodney Terry said his team prepares for those moments in practice, allowing him to avoid over coaching his team by calling a timeout and letting the defense get set and make decisions about whether to play man or zone or even use full-court pressure. Instead, Terry trusted his players to execute.
“We have a package to where we talk about getting downhill with X amount of time, whether that has to be to attack for three or to get downhill for a basket and in this case, we didn’t need a three, we needed to get downhill and get to a two,” said Terry.
Hunter finished with a team-high 21 points in an up-and-down performance after he was held out of the final 6:21 in Wednesday’s home loss to UCF following two bad turnovers. In the first half on Saturday, Hunter responded by making all four of his three-point attempts and scored 14 points while adding three assists. As Terry frequently alludes to, he believes Hunter is at his best when his defense helps create his offense.
“I thought he played his best defensive half of the season in the first half and if you go back and look over the times that Tyrese has played well and scored the ball here, he’s had a great defensive game,” said Terry. “When he gets lost playing really hard on defense, his offense comes really easy to him.”
As a team, the Longhorns shot extraordinarily well from three in the opening 20 minutes, hitting 9-of-11 from beyond the arc as senior forward Dylan Disu hit both attempts and senior guard Max Abmas went 3-of-5 shooting from distance.
Forced to make adjustments at halftime, Baylor head coach Scott Drew took a page out of UCF’s playbook by using some zone defense against Texas and also changed the pick-and-roll coverage for the Bears by switching ball screens. At times, the Horns were able to take advantage, like when Disu backed down guard Jayden Nunn for a key layup with 7:25 remaining, but the adjustments were effective in forcing Texas to miss all eight of its three-point attempts in the second half.
Some of those struggles came from Hunter himself, who airballed a three and a free throw within the first three and a half minutes out of halftime before an ill-advised, step-back three failed to draw iron after hitting the backboard outside the square.
Consider that the full Tyrese Hunter Experience on Saturday.
Texas made its own adjustments defensively after star Baylor guard Ja’Kobe Walter scored 10 of the first 15 points for the Bears and 14 total in the first half — Terry deployed high-energy sophomore guard Chendall Weaver on Walter for long stretches of the second half. Weaver played 12 of the final 20 minutes and only scored two points, but made things difficult enough for Walter that the freshman went 1-of-4 shooting in the second half, missing both of his three-point attempts.
“Chendall’s been bought in all year long. He’s been a star in his role from the start of the season. He’s helped us win ball games and a lot of times a lot of things that he does to impact games don’t show up in the box score,” said Terry. “He shows up every day. The way he plays in games is the way he practices. He practices that way every day. He goes extremely hard. He makes winning plays, effort plays. He goes about his business, never complains about playing time — he’s just a winner.”
The wild finish capped an intense second half that started with Texas leading 42-41 and featured multiple ties and lead changes in the early going. Consecutive three-pointers from Love and Jalen Bridges, who hit the three to tie the game, gave Baylor a six-point lead with 13:44 remaining as the Bears threatened to pull away.
But with Baylor still leading by six points two minutes later, Nunn missed a layup that that led by a fast-break dunk by Longhorns sophomore forward Dillon Mitchell. After the under-12 media timeout, Disu stole the ball from Baylor guard RayJ Dennis and cut the deficit to two on the other end with a jumper to keep the visitors from creating any separation.
Ultimately, the biggest response from the Longhorns came on the defensive end. Love made a layup with 9:10 remaining and then the Bears missed their next six shots, going 9:05 without making a field goal until Bridges hit the late desperation three.
Texas went through its own offensive struggles during that stretch, missing 6-of-7 shots after a layup by Hunter at the 6:34 mark, but did convert opportunities at the free-throw line.
In a game with narrow margins, three plays late stood out.
Disu came through with the first, powering through contact to finish at the rim to give Texas a three-point lead with 3:18 left in the game.
The second was a block by Texas senior forward Kadin Shedrick, who recognized that the 6’5 Love was trying to take advantage of the smaller Abmas, using his physicality to get into the paint. But Shedrick timed his help defense perfectly and swatted the shot attempt out of bounds with 1:32 remaining and the Longhorns leading by three points.
Weaver provided the third, one of those highlight plays that won’t show up in the box score. Clinging to a one-point lead after Walter made two free throws, Disu attempted a jumper from the wing, but when it missed, Weaver was there with his signature tenacity, knocking the ball out to Abmas.
Some big minutes late from Chendall Weaver.— Noah Gross (@noah_gross27) January 20, 2024
Just two points but a couple key hustle plays like this save in the final minute. pic.twitter.com/ZaORDftT78
“He’s one of the hardest, if not the hardest-playing dude on the court at all times,” Disu said of Weaver. “Credit to him because that’s not an easy thing to do, but the coaching staff challenged him to be a junkyard dog for us and it may not be the most fun all the time, but he’s so unselfish and willing to do that for us and that’s what it takes to make a team successful is guys like him.”
After the game, Drew said he wanted his team to trap Abmas and force him to give the ball up when he corralled the tap from Weaver. Instead, Baylor panicked, fouling Abmas and sending the 88.2-percent free-throw shooter to the line. Abmas came through with both and Hunter did the rest to send the Longhorns to victory in a bounce-back win following the deep disappointment of Wednesday’s blown double-digit lead against the Knights.
“I feel like in order for us to be successful team, we have to be together and that’s what we stressed this whole week,” said Disu. “Everything we do is for each other — the more we play for each other, play for our team, play for the coaching staff, then we feel like we can beat any team in the country.”
The second game in the stretch of six consecutive ranked opponents for Texas continues on Tuesday in Norman with a rivalry game against No. 15 Oklahoma.