“He’s a warrior. He’s got great guts. He’s got great stuff inside of him.”
Texas Longhorns head coach Shaka Smart’s sentiments for his budding freshman floor general were as apparent as ever on Saturday throughout the 89-84 win over the No. 12-ranked Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday.
Pitted against freshman phenom point guard Trae Young, Matt Coleman put forth his best effort as a Longhorn to date, totaling a career-high 22 points, with 17 of those coming throughout the final 14:59 as Coleman led the charge for a come-from-behind victory.
Simply put, it was an extraordinary bounce-back performance for the Virginia native after Coleman missed all three potential game-winning free throw attempts in an overtime loss to No. 10 Texas Tech just days earlier.
Sweet, sweet redemption — the result of Coleman shooting 150 free throws at 3:00 a.m. following a low point in Lubbock.
Bouncing back from subpar performances this season has been a theme for Coleman.
Coleman followed a six-point, four-assist effort against Duke up with 19 points, four assists and four steals against Gonzaga. Against Baylor, Coleman totaled only six points and five assists, but notched his first career double-double the following game against TCU with 17 points and 12 assists, along with four steals and three blocks.
And of course, after failing to seal the deal against Texas Tech before fouling out just seconds later, Coleman carried Texas to a win over an Oklahoma squad that was ranked No. 4 nationally just weeks ago.
By this point in the season, Smart is well aware that Coleman is more than capable of putting a poor performance in the past and redeeming himself the following game. As Smart said during his Monday morning press conference, though, the emphasis of Monday’s ‘Point Guard U’ session would be centered around urging Coleman to consistently follow up one good performance with another.
“Your motivation has been phenomenal coming off of games where you feel like you’ve hurt the team down the stretch. I’m going to tell him, ‘You can be just as motivated after a great game against Oklahoma. I loved your response; it’s terrific,’” Smart said of his message to Coleman.
“Now what we’re trying to build with him, and it’s a challenge as a freshman, is consistency. But he really wants to be good. He wants to help the team and I think his confidence is gaining.”
Part of Coleman’s growing confidence comes with the freshman figuring out just how substantial his impact on the team can be. For example, consider the aforementioned final 14:59 of the game — the first of Coleman’s final 17 points of the night came by way over a crossover the led to a three pointer. From that point, the momentum swung dramatically in favor of Texas.
@BDavisAAS asked Shaka Smart today about Matt Coleman’s ability to change momentum for the team, referencing this play. That 3 sparked a 35-20 Texas run with 17 of those points coming from Coleman, himself. #HookEm pic.twitter.com/kVXLnfEH51— Cody Daniel (@CodyDanielSBN) February 6, 2018
On the ensuing Oklahoma possession, Coleman helped create a steal, then attacked the basket, attempting a two-handed dunk to set off the crowd. The ball went off the back rim, but Coleman didn’t back down — on his next opportunity, he calmly hit another three pointer in the corner off a feed from Eric Davis Jr.
“He gets it, but he doesn’t get it,” Smart said of Coleman’s grasp of his own ability to change momentum. “He understands it on a certain level, but he doesn’t understand it like Jevon Carter understands. What he needs to know is at that position, you are the spirit-driver in the whole building.”
After Coleman hit the crossover three, not only was a packed house at the Frank Erwin Center loud and engaged, the three sparked a 35-20 Longhorns run en route to a 78-70 lead with only seconds remaining.
With 1:44 left in the game, Oklahoma fouled Coleman, sending him to the line as the Longhorns clung to a three-point lead. The freshman calmly sunk both. Then made two more to extend the margin to 76-70.
While other standouts like Kerwin Roach II and Dylan Osetkowski certainly played a praiseworthy part in Texas’ comeback victory, it was Coleman who unquestionably led the charge.
Now set to enter what Smart dubbed a more challenging portion of the schedule as mental and physical fatigue weighs on players, the challenge Smart has placed before Coleman is to consistently look the part of the player he was against Oklahoma, or simply something close to it.
Coleman’s response to that challenge, or lack thereof, should prove to have a direct impact on just how strongly Texas finishes the season after notching three ranked wins throughout the past month.