The downward spiral continues for Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns.
The ‘Horns hit the road Friday night to open Big 12 action with the tall task of stealing a win over Kansas State in the Octagon of Doom, but to no avail as the Wildcats survived a late Texas push to secure a 65-62 victory.
If only the game consisted of just the opening 5:13 and final 4:34 of action.
The night started as if Texas’ youthful bunch would kick off the conference slate with a bang, and concluded the night in similar fashion. At the first TV timeout, the ‘Horns held an 11-4 edge behind stifling defense and energetic offense. Fast forward to the final 4:34 of the game at the ‘Horns finished on an 18-9 run, which collectively saw Texas open and close the Big 12 opener with a 29-13 edge over Kansas State.
But it’s what happen in between the opening and closing runs that determined Texas’ fate. In the 30:13 of game time in between the ‘Horns two notable runs, the Wildcats controlled the matchup with little resistance for a 52-33 edge.
The 19-point margin began after Texas’ offense ceased to exist following the quick start, as K-State rattled off a 15-0 run en route to a 19-11 lead. Meanwhile, the ‘Horns slogged through an eight-minute scoring drought with just two points — a pair of Shaquille Cleare free throws.
It was a stretch Texas wasn’t able to fully recover from. The Longhorns slowly battled back behind what can only be deemed as nearly unwatchable offense from both sides, and briefly saw a late half run transform into a 29-28 lead with under a minute before intermission. The lead vanished behind a 4-1 K-State run and Texas trailed at the half 32-29 after the Wildcats converted 15-19 looks from the charity stripe.
Texas never regained the lead, which swelled to as much as 13 (53-40) before Texas rattled off its aforementioned too-little-too-late run.
The matchup was essentially determined by two factors: turnovers and free throws. Texas committed 17 of the former while Kansas State converted 26 of the latter, which went hand-in-hand. Careless ball-handling from Texas often led to turnovers and subsequent Wildcat fast breaks and the fouls followed.
It was a night where Kansas State refused to beat Texas behind a 17-47 shooting effort so the ‘Horns did the job for them. Texas shot better from the field (46.3%) and from the perimeter (27.8%), but attempting and converting just 7-12 free throws isn’t enough when Kansas State makes 14 more than Texas attempted.
Cleare and Jarrett Allen led the way for Texas with 14 points on 6-8 shooting and 10 points on 4-7 from the field, respectively, while Kerwin Roach Jr. joined them in double figured with 10 points of his own. Tevin Mack, the ‘Horns leading scorer, fell short of his season average after seeing just 1-7 perimeter looks fall.
Meanwhile, on a night that saw two Kansas State starters — Austin Budke and Xavier Sneed — remain scoreless, Dean Wade, Wesley Iwundu and Kamau Stokes combined for 49 of Kansas State’s 65 points. Only five of the nine Wildcats that played scored.
Following Friday night’s loss, Texas has now dropped seven of its last 10 and remains winless (0-5) away from Austin. At 6-7, the ‘Horns now own the worst record in the Big 12, trailing 6-6 Oklahoma.
Next up, Texas will host a 10-3 Oklahoma State squad on Jan. 4. The Cowboys dropped also dropped their conference opener to No. 11 West Virginia.