In front of over a thousand soldiers and families for the annual Armed Forces Classic at Fort Bliss in El Paso, the Texas Longhorns outlasted their former SWC rival Arkansas Razorbacks in overtime, 73-71. In honor of the military members in attendance, both teams wore camo military-themed uniforms with ‘U.S.A.’ labeled on the back.
Despite shooting just 31.3 percent from the field and going over 10 minutes without a field goal in the second half, the Longhorns were able to scrap a win away from the Razorbacks. Missed free throws down the stretch for Arkansas proved to be crucial and came back to haunt them in the end. They shot 13-for-24 (54.2 percent) from the line compared to a solid 21-for-30 (70 percent) clip for the Longhorns.
Kerwin Roach II was the hero for Texas in this one, leading the way with 18 points and hitting the overtime forcing three-pointer. After a shaky 2-for-9 start from the floor, Roach finished the night going 6-for-18 from the field and 4-for-11 from three.
Daniel Gafford led the Razorbacks with 20 points and 12 rebounds in this one. Freshman guard Isaiah Joe came up big for them as well, chipping in 17 points of his own on 5-of-8 from three.
The pace of play was very up-tempo and suitable for both teams. As the offensive woes occured for Texas throughout the second half, their defense kept them in it until the end.
Freshman Jaxon Hayes and Courtney Ramey stepped up and made some winning plays in overtime. Ramey’s go-ahead floater ended up being the difference. After Jericho Sims fouled out, Hayes stepped in and provided high-energy on both sides of the ball.
Ramey totaled 10 points on a quality 4-for-6 shooting. Hayes added two points and eight rebounds.
With Roach back in the starting lineup, the offense looked crisp and played at a much quicker pace than usual early on.
Roach got things going with a pull-up jumper to put the Longhorns ahead 2-0. The Razorbacks quickly responded with a pair of threes and an 8-0 run of their own.
Shaka Smart’s full-court diamond pressure was effective early on with Jericho Sims guarding the inbounder. When Arkansas was able to break the press past half-court, Texas defenders became out-of-position which led to a couple of easy dunks from Daniel Gafford.
After Arkansas jumped out to a 13-5 lead, Texas responded with three straight three-pointers on some beautiful ball movement. Elijah Mitrou-Long, Roach, and Dylan Osetkowski all connected from three to give Texas a 14-13 lead. This 9-0 run was the start of what ended up being a 22-3 run to give Texas a double-digit lead with 9:01 left in the first half.
Whenever Arkansas tried to feed Gafford in the post, Texas would double this attempt when the opportunity was there. They were able to force four Gafford turnovers in the first half.
Due to foul trouble, Coleman only played nine minutes in the first half. Sims picked up a couple of quick fouls to put him at three total fouls before the break.
After Arkansas cut the lead to eight points with under two minutes remaining in the half, the Longhorns had a crucial four-point swing sequence. Desi Sills missed a thundering dunk and Gafford lost his defensive rebound on the other end, leading to a layup for Osetkowski. Credit Osetkowski for sticking with the play and showing good hands to create a quick turnover and score.
After Roach nearly banked in a half-court shot to close out the first half, the teams headed to the locker room with the Longhorns leading 36-30. Courtney Ramey and Jericho Sims led the way with a combined 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Gafford had nine points and five rebounds for the Razorbacks.
The pace slowed down early on in the second half and the refs became whistle-happy at times.
Arkansas forward Adrio Bailey hit a couple of well-contested shots to get the Razorbacks going after the break. Freshman guard Isaiah Joe hit some smooth crucial three-pointers as well.
With the Horns struggling to hit some baskets, Smart mixed things up on the defensive side, going to an extended 2-3 zone and then back to the diamond press. Mike Anderson and the Razorbacks responded with a press of their own to intensify the pace in their favor. The up-tempo pace forced some sloppy offensive play from both squads.
Joe gave Arkansas their first lead since the 13:08 mark of the first half after knocking down a three-pointer with 8:48 to go. Poor offensive play and traded free throws from both sides kept this one low-scoring the rest of the way.
Texas experienced an inexcusable 10-minute field goal drought from the under-12 timeout all the way through the under-4 timeout. On a beautiful drive and kick from Coleman, Roach snapped that drought with a three-pointer to knot things up at 57 with under three minutes to go. Mason Jones answered with a three of his own on Arkansas’ ensuing possession.
After a long rebound, Long pushed the ball up the court and euro-stepped around an Arkansas defender to pull Texas back within one.
Down 62-59, the full-court diamond pressure forced a much-needed steal before Osetkowski went 1-for-2 from the line. The free throw miss forced the struggling free-shooter Gafford to be fouled, though. With 9.1 seconds to go, Gafford split from the stripe and the Longhorns had one more opportunity to tie it.
Kerwin Roach came to the rescue and drilled a contested fadeaway three-pointer with 1.1 remaining to force overtime.
In overtime, Matt Coleman cracked the stat sheet with his first points on the night to put Texas ahead 67-65. Isaiah Joe responded with a cold-blooded deep three to put the Razorbacks back ahead by one.
Jaxson Hayes came up big on a quick-slip to the basket and finished a dunk on a nice feed from Roach to put Texas up 70-69. After Arkansas netted two free throws, Ramey pump-faked a defender out and hit a floater off the glass to regain the lead.
After coming up with a stop on the other end and Longhorns being sent to the foul line with 21 seconds remaining, Long missed the second of two free throw attempts up 73-71 and Arkansas came down with a chance to tie it. Mike Anderson decided to let his guys play things out and Texas’ defense responded with the one last stop they needed.
That impressive last defensive possession was the difference between a win and a possible loss.
As ugly as it was, the Longhorns will take the final result. This team has a lot to improve on going forward but a 2-0 start is as good as it gets right now.
This story will be updated.