AUSTIN, Texas — Head coach Rodney Terry and the No. 20 Texas Longhorns got off to a poor start to conference play in the program’s final season in the Big 12, falling to the Texas Tech Red Raiders 78-67 on Saturday at the Moody Center, only the second home loss for the Longhorns since the arena opened last season.
Playing under the cloud of the civil lawsuit filed against star guard Pop Isaacs, Texas Tech played like a team relieved to be on the basketball court with Isaacs scoring a game-high 21 points as the Red Raiders shot 52.8-percent from the field and 46.7 percent from three, making a number of difficult shots.
Texas received continued strong play from junior guard Tyrese Hunter, who scored 20 points, and senior guard Max Abmas scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half in an attempt to keep the Longhorns close, but it wasn’t enough as four players combined to score 63 of the 67 points for Terry’s team.
A 13-2 run by the Red Raiders in the first half and a 14-5 stretch midway through the second half proved decisive for the visitors.
Here are three takeaways from a loss that raises concerns about how conference play will go for a Texas team that looks undeserving of its Top 25 ranking and more like a team that Joe Lunardi currently has on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Warren Washington dominated the interior and Texas couldn’t match him
A 7’0, 230-pounder who transferred from Arizona State, Washington was a physical presence in the paint, getting to his spots offensively and shooting over his favored left shoulder while providing a dangerous rim-running threat. It wasn’t just the 15 points that Washington scored that impacted the game so heavily, it was his efficiency, making all five of his field-goal attempts and adding five more points from the line on eight free throws, bettering his season average of 55.2 percent at the charity stripe.
“I feel like the way the way I played on offense goes to show the work I’ve been putting in off the court. At the beginning of the season, I felt like I wasn’t making the shots I usually make and I put extra hours in the gym and I just feel like it showed today,” said Washington.
Defensively, Washington made things difficult for Texas senior forwards Kadin Shedrick and Dylan Disu with three blocks.
“Texas’ is interior is great and I thought Warren was the difference there and Warren did a phenomenal job. They just didn’t get a lot of interior baskets with with their front line,” said Texas Tech head coach Grant McCasland.
No stretch was more telling of the eventual outcome than two attempts at the rim by Shedrick with five and a half minutes remaining, both misses influenced by Washington that didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but helped maintain a seven-point lead for Tech.
The Longhorns never got closer than five points for the rest of the game and Shedrick finished with an abysmal 1-of-7 shooting from the field and failed to get to the free-throw line, missing a dunk near the end of the first half for good measure.
Despite the praise for the Longhorns front court from McCasland, the issue for Texas is that Shedrick has now looked like the modest contributor he was at Virginia in three of his four games against Power Five opponents instead of the player Texas recruited him to be, as evidenced by his star turn scoring 27 points on 15 shots against a bad Louisville team in New York.
With how the Texas roster is constructed, Shedrick has to be more consistent and play at a level he’s never reached in his career — that’s the bet that Terry made on him and it’s simply not paying off yet in enough games that matter.
A shortened rotation featured too few difference makers
In marked contrast to the non-conference season, Terry’s rotation only featured eight players.
Junior forward Ze’Rik Onyema didn’t see the floor. Neither did freshman guard Chris Johnson. Sophomore guard Chendall Weaver played nine minutes with three rebounds and a hustle play to score a put back off the offensive glass. Senior guard IT Horton also played just nine minutes, missing his only shot and committing a personal foul while continuing to mostly look unplayable defensively once again.
“For the better part of a year our bench has been really good, coming in and scoring the ball for us and giving us a lift and they’ll continue to do that,” said Terry.
For a better part of a year, however, that was a different bench and the lack of contributions from the one that Texas has right now were exacerbated by the struggles of Shedrick and senior forward Brock Cunningham, who had a night to forget, fouling out in 31 minutes with a turnover and zero points, ending the game minus-11 during his time on the court.
So four players who were on the court for a combined 78 minutes for the Longhorns — Weaver, Horton, Shedrick, and Cunningham — scored four points. That’s not winning basketball, especially in the nation’s toughest basketball conference, and to put it more fairly for Horton and Weaver, Shedrick and Cunningham played 60 minutes and scored two points.
Senior forward Dylan Disu also dealt with foul trouble, playing only five minutes in the first half and then looking out of sorts after halftime, making 1-of-7 shots and turning the ball over twice. During the stretch of the second half that ultimately proved decisive, Disu turned the ball over after an offensive rebound of his own miss, missed a free throw, and then committed two fouls in 16 seconds that sent him to the bench for over five minutes that saw Texas fail to cut into the deficit.
“I think for Disu he picked up two quick fouls, never really got into the flow in the first half of the game. We got him going there a little bit in the second half and then we get another call where we take him off the floor,” said Terry.
But you know, we got a bit of played through some of the adversity we got to have, you know, some more physicality and some more religious, you also want to in their posts in terms of, you know, carving out space and, you know, wanting to be factors on that end of the floor.
Dillon Mitchell is a difference maker and a continue work in progress
When good things happen for the Longhorns, the athleticism and motor of the sophomore forward are typically involved. But Mitchell’s continued deficiencies are also an issue that the Texas offense has to overcome because he’s yet to make a three-pointer since arriving on the Forty Acres is remains a mediocre free-throw shooter.
The start of the second half reflected the current Mitchell Experience. On the first possession, he missed a jumper because his shot is still streaky at best. But the miss did at least result in an offensive rebound for Shedrick and his lone made field goal of the night.
Two seconds later, Mitchell committed an unnecessary foul 90 feet from the basket on a night when McCasland felt like Tech gained an advantage at the free-throw line in part because Texas couldn’t defend without fouling.
Twenty-six seconds after the bad foul, Mitchell was out in transition after a steal by Shedrick, throwing down a rim-rattling slam on a lob from Abmas.
Only 24 more seconds passed before Mitchell secured an offensive rebound on a badly-missed three by Abmas and converted a layup to finish a 6-0 run out of halftime that forced McCasland to call a timeout.
Mitchell finished with 16 points, but also needed 14 shots to get there, was 2-of-4 from the free-throw line, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out four assists while committing two turnovers. At times, Texas Tech left him completely alone in the corner in the half court, allowing his defender to stay in the paint to dissuade drives, forcing Texas to play five-on-four until Mitchell dove into the paint and the waiting defender. Mitchell is athletic enough to make that work and his aggressiveness is a welcome change from the passivity he often showed last season.
As with everything else, though, the aggressiveness comes with a cost as Mitchell sometimes spends too much time dribbling to get into a low-percentage jump shot or needs a teammate to bail him out, as he did on a possession in the second half when he passed Abmas into the baseline corner, where he was double teamed and forced to call a timeout late in the shot clock the impacted Terry’s ability to stop the game late as Texas struggled.
Back on the positive side, Terry put Mitchell on Texas Tech guard Joe Toussaint in the first half after the Bronx native scored 11 of 13 points for the Red Raiders and helped slow him down, demonstrating Mitchell’s ability to guard every position on the court.
The problem for the Longhorns is that one-on-one defense by other players wasn’t as effective and Texas allowed Tech to make some tough shots early that allowed them to play in rhythm for the entire game. Another recipe for losing in the Big 12.