AUSTIN, Texas — What was once a 5-0 start to the season now seems as if it were a century ago.
On Wednesday evening, Shaka Smart welcomed his old program to the Frank Erwin Center for the first time, as his Texas Longhorns dropped their third consecutive game in a last-second loss to the VCU Rams, 54-53.
Matt Coleman opened the action just seconds into the game with a quick three-pointer, and in a sign of things to come, De’Riante Jenkins answered moments later with a perimeter look of his own. Nearly two minutes passed before Marcus Evans joined in with his own three-pointer, providing the Rams with an early 6-4 edge. Following what proved to be a sluggish first four minutes, with the teams tied 6-6 coming out of the first TV timeout, Jaxson Hayes and Kamaka Hepa provided a fresh spark of life. Hayes followed a dunk on his first possession with a block on the other end, igniting a transition three for Hepa, who then connected on his second three in as many tries on the following possession to lift Texas to a 14-9 lead.
The perimeter party continued shortly thereafter; this time around, it was Issac Vann cutting into Texas’ lead, and then Jenkins doing much of the same to give the Rams the 15-14 edge. As part of a theme that persisted throughout the first half, the lead changed hands yet again just prior to the midpoint, as Kerwin Roach II found Jericho Sims for an alley oop, which sparked a quick 6-0 Texas run.
Once again, though, Jenkins found his touch from the perimeter, cutting the Longhorns’ lead to 20-18 entering the under-eight media timeout. Coming out of the brief break, Texas and VCU each exchanged a pair of turnovers before the Longhorns finally found the scoreboard again on a Hayes put-back. Elijah Mitrou-Long then joined in on the action in drawing a charge on one end before heading to the charity stripe for a pair of free throws on the other end to lift Texas’ edge to 14-19 with just under five minutes remaining before intermission.
The final few minutes of the half, however, belonged to VCU.
After taking a 26-21 cushion into the under-four timeout, Jenkins connected on his fourth three-pointer of the first half. Five quick points from Evans allowed VCU to take a 32-31 edge into intermission, largely behind 12 points a piece from Jenkins and Evans.
The second half served as a similar back and forth affair, though it became much more of a game of runs. Evans picked up where he left off with a quick layup before Texas bounced back with a 6-0 run capped by a Jase Febres fast-break jam. Marcus Santos-Silva then exchanged personal 4-0 runs with Sims as Texas took a slight 41-40 lead into the Under-12 media timeout, and coming out of the break, Sean Mobley and Michael Gilmore combined for another quick 4-0 VCU run to recapture the lead, 44-41.
Not to be outdone, a Sims jam sparked an 8-2 Longhorns run, which featured a Hayes fast-break dunk and a Dylan Osetkowski put-back slam, which brought the Frank Erwin Center to life for seemingly the first time all evening. In sticking with the theme, though, it was VCU’s turn for a quick spurt. While Texas — and specifically, Osetkowski — struggled to find their footing offensive, the Rams pieced together a 7-0 run to take charge, 52-49, forcing Smart to call a timeout.
Save for a Sims dunk moments later, the Longhorns offensive woes lagged on throughout the final minutes.
“During crunch time, I think the biggest thing is we had six turnovers,” said Coleman.
A Coleman turnover was succeeded by Hayes being slammed with a charge on a dunk attempt. Seconds later, a rough shooting night for Roach persisted, as he was partially blocked on a wild floater attempt. It wasn’t until a Roach steal and transition layup with 1:24 remaining that Texas finally found its first points since the under-four timeout — Roach was 0-of-10 from the field to this point.
On the following defensive stand, Texas stood up, forcing a shot clock violation with only 53 ticks remaining, but the Longhorns weren’t able to buy another bucket.
Courtney Ramey did get an opportunity with 39 seconds to play, though his wide-open three didn’t find its mark. After a Jenkins missed jumper on the other end, Coleman enjoyed the final look just as time expired, but his quiet night continued through the final seconds as VCU snagged the board and the win, 54-53.
“It’s hard to describe,” Smart said of the Longhorns three-game slump. “Less than two weeks ago, we were 5-0 and just beat the No. 7 team in the country with the same guys.”
As evident by the final score, Wednesday ’s contest wasn’t exactly abundant with offensive fireworks.
In fact, quite the opposite is true. VCU surprisingly shot even worse from the field than Texas, connection on only 28.1 percent (16-of-57) from the field and only 24 percent from deep (6-of-25). The Rams did, however, cash in with 16 points from the free throw line with only five misses.
Texas, on the other hand, converted 41.5 percent from the field (22-of-53) — still a poor effort, but praiseworthy in comparison to VCU’s shooting woes. The Longhorns’ perimeter struggles were almost equally unideal, as Texas netted only 4-of-17 threes (23.5%), and only five free throws in eight tries.
Jericho Sims quietly finished with 14 points and nine boards, but elsewhere, no other Longhorn finished with more than eight points (Hayes). Roach finished 1-of-11 from the field and 0-of-3 from deep, while Ramey and Long combined to miss each of their seven attempts.
“Every night, I’m here from 9:30 to 12 just shooting the ball,” Roach said after the game. “Eventually it will click. But right now, it’s just not clicking.”
Now 5-3, Texas will be back in action on Sunday evening as the Longhorns welcome Purdue to the Frank Erwin Center. The Boilermakers have dropped three of their previous four games with a home stand against No. 23 Maryland looming on Thursday.
What needs to change for the Horns to avoid a three-game slump turning into a four-game skid?
“Our mentality,” Coleman said. “More sense of urgency, compassion. We lose three now, you don’t want to lose four. Urgency is there.”