AUSTIN, Texas — Down their senior starter and leading scorer — guard Kerwin Roach II was glued to the sidelines due to a stomach illness — the Texas Longhorns largely struggled to produce points in a late 71-65 loss to the Providence Friars at the Erwin Center on Friday evening.
Though neither team started especially strong in the scoring department, Texas was markedly worse out of the gates and stayed stuck in first gear throughout the first five-plus minutes of action. It wasn’t until a Matt Coleman layup at the 16:03 mark that Texas found its first points, and before the next shot would fall, Providence had quickly constructed an 11-2 cushion.
That was, at least, until the reserves re-energized a lethargic Longhorns offense.
Just moments after checking in for the first time, freshman Courtney Ramey connected on a triple, and then on the other end, fellow freshman Jaxson Hayes blocked a shot that led to the former assisting the latter for Hayes’ first of many dunks on the evening. The duo matched that productivity moments later, as a Ramey and-one was followed by a second dunk for Hayes in as many minutes.
“I just felt like we played aggressive and took what the defense gave us,” Ramey said of the spark he and Hayes provided offensively.
Suddenly, a Longhorns offense that managed just two points throughout the first five-plus minutes cut Providence’s lead to three, 15-12, at the 11:34 mark.
In keeping the momentum moving forward, Ramey adding to his total just before the mid-point of the first half with his second three; this time, to tie the game at 15-15. The theme of Texas’ top two freshmen making their impact felt continued, as Providence’s response to recapture the lead was answered with yet another Hayes dunk, though this time around, the bouncy center was whistled for a technical for taunting.
“I just yelled and-one,” Hayes said of the reason for his technical. “The guy smacked me in the face when I dunked it so I just yelled and-one.”
That whistle not only effectively ended Texas’ much-needed momentum, but sent Hayes to the bench with his second foul, where he joined an already fouled-plagued longhorns frontcourt, as senior Dylan Osetkowski and freshman Kamaka Hepa each owned a pair of their own fouls.
Consequently, what was once a 17-17 tie with 9:19 remaining in the first half quickly ballooned into a 29-19 Friars edge, largely behind back-to-back three-pointers from Isaiah Jackson. Texas did, however, piece together nearly as many points as it had to this point, finding 15 points throughout the final 5:34 of the first half — much of it courtesy of the free throw line — but the Friars’ 11-2 outburst was enough to take a 39-34 lead into the locker room.
Coming out of the break, that five-point lead quickly became 10 before Coleman, once again, got Texas into the scoring column with an and-one, though the free throw didn’t connect.
Then, in a surprising showing, it was Royce Hamm, the seemingly forgotten forward who’s served almost entirely as a spectator this season, who provided effort, energy, and most notably, productivity in place of sophomore Jericho Sims, who was sidelined throughout the entire second half.
“Just trying to find a way to reach him. He just didn’t bring the energy and the level of fight that he needed to bring,” Smart said of Sims being benched throughout the second half.
A Hamm blocked shot on one end led to an Osetkowski layup on the other end, and the next time Texas took possession, it was Hamm cashing in with a quick layup, sending head coach Shaka Smart into a floor-smacking frenzy as Texas was now within four, 46-42; a lead Providence took into the under-16 media timeout.
Coming out of that intermission, it was much of the same of what Texas enjoyed throughout the first half — Hayes and Ramey. After splitting a pair of free throws, Hayes found points at the rim yet again with 14:04 off of the Ramey assists, and that same recipe led to Texas’ next bucket to bring the Horns within four once again, 51-47.
In an attempt to get into the action themselves, an Elijah Mitrou-Long steal led to a transition three from Coleman, which cut the lead to a single point, 51-50, but more than five minutes would pass before Texas scored again.
It wasn’t until a pair of Osetkowski free throws with 6:43 remaining that Texas snapped its scoring drought. Not to be outdone, Makai Ashton-Langford bounced back with a three to increase the Friars’ cushion to 60-52. At that point, Providence had a win probability of nearly 84 percent.
Before the scoring drought, Texas had a win probability of nearly 58 percent.
Trailing by eight with time winding down, the Texas veterans led the way for a bit of a push, as Coleman and Osetkowski combined for a quick pair of layups before an Osetkowski three and a Mitrou-Long jumper trimmed the deficit to just two with 2:11 to play.
As he had done throughout much of the evening, Mitrou-Long then looked to capitalize on the defensive end, going down on a close call, but the whistle went the other way, allowing Alpha Diallo to connect on 1-of-2 attempts from the line to give Providence a 65-62 lead with 1:51 left.
Though the Texas defense stayed stiff throughout the next minute and a half, keeping Providence off the scoreboard, potential game-tying threes from Coleman and Jase Febres were each off target.
Nate Watson then scored what essentially served as the game-sealing layup with 25 seconds remaining. Texas frantically turned the ball over over seconds later, forcing Hayes to foul Diallo as he attacked the rim. The Friars’ leading scorer sank each attempt to provide Providence with a 69-62 advantage with only 22 seconds to play, making Coleman’s late three all but irrelevant.
In Roach’s absence, Coleman (13), Hayes (13), Osetkowski (12) and Ramey (10) each registered double figures in the scoring column. The rest of the team, however, provided only 17 points on a 6-of-21 shooting performance, including 1-of-9 from three.
“He’s a big factor on our team,” Smart said of Roach. “He got sick a couple days ago… He wanted to play but he just wasn’t able to muster the energy that he needed.”
In a similar sense, it was the Diallo and Jackson show for the Friars, as the two combined for 32 of the team’s 71 points. No other Friar reached double figures.
In addition to shooting a higher clip from the field (45.6% vs. 37.7%), from three (38.5% vs. 25%) and from the free throw line (63.6% vs. 56.5%), Providence out-rebounded Texas, 38-32, and distributed seven more assists (15-to-8).
With the loss, the Longhorns now drop to 7-4 on the season following what was once a 5-0 start at No. 17 nationally ranking.
“There certainly will be a lot of self-reflection out of this game,” said Smart.
Next up, Texas will cap its non-conference slate at home next Friday against UT Arlington. The game is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Central and will be televised on Longhorn Network.
This story will be updated.