The Texas Longhorns had an opportunity to all but cement their place in the NCAA Tournament with a win over No. 8 Texas Tech on Monday night, but the Red Raiders took advantage of Texas’ lousy start on offense and quickly ran away with the game, extending their lead to double digits early on and never looking back.
The Red Raiders 70-51 win over the Longhorns featured some of the common struggles that continue to plague Texas basketball, such as the poor shooting, highlighting the absence of an aggressive, elite scorer.
Texas entered the game in good shape riding a small wave of momentum as it was coming off of a win at home against Iowa State. The win over the Cyclones set up the notion that the Longhorns could erase any doubt as to their tournament chances with a win on the road over a top-10 team in Texas Tech.
But the Red Raiders were celebrating senior night and are currently chasing a chance at a share of the Big 12 title. Whatever chances Texas, which was an eight-point underdog, had at Texas Tech quickly fizzled out once the game began and the reason was self-inflicted.
The Longhorns didn’t make their first basket until the 16-minute mark when Matt Coleman got a three-pointer to fall to bring Texas within one point of Texas Tech.
Coleman led Texas scorers, finishing with 16 points.
But rather than flipping a switch and kick-starting the Longhorns on the offensive end, Coleman’s three-pointer soon appeared to be the outlier on a night in which the first five-to 10 minutes of the game were spent by Texas tossing up brick after brick.
Throughout much of the first 12 minutes of basketball, the Longhorns were 3-for-20 from the floor, shooting just 16 percent.
Where Texas struggled in the first half the Red Raiders were polar opposites, shooting almost 50 percent for much of the first half, leading 30-15 at one point, doubling up Texas’ offensive production on multiple occasions.
The Longhorns finished the game 16-of-54 from the floor, finishing the night with an ugly 29 percent field goal percentage.
The lone bright spot for the Longhorns came at the end of the first half when Elijah Mitrou-Long drilled a three-pointer as time expired to cap an 8-2 run to bring Texas within nine points, trailing 23-32 at halftime.
Mitrou-Long was the only other Longhorn to score in double figures, finishing with 11 points.
The Longhorns poor shooting wasn’t exclusive to the slow start. Even as Texas regained some momentum and got a few more shots to fall, appearing to show even the slightest resemblance of a team hitting its stride, it wasn’t enough.
If the Red Raiders weren’t pulling away they were answering Texas at every opportunity to do so.
And each time felt more and more demoralizing.
Matt Mooney put an exclamation point on the first half for Texas Tech, keeping the momentum going for the Red Raiders with four minutes left when he drove to the right side of the lower block and scored on a short jumper and then converted the and-one opportunity after he was fouled. The play put Texas Tech ahead by 10 in the midst of a 14-4 run in the first half. Mooney finished with 15 points for the Red Raiders.
Jarrett Culver led all Red Raiders in scoring with 16 points.
The Longhorns didn’t do themselves any favors on offense from a rebounding standpoint. Texas only grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, and nearly have of those occurred in the opening minutes. For perspective, on a night that saw Texas miss 54 shots from the floor, the Longhorns only got the rebound on 11 of those instances. The Red Raiders snatched 29 defensive rebounds, nearly tripling the amount of times the Longhorns got their hands on a missed shot.
The loss, for as ugly of a performance as it was, still appears to not have that big of an impact on the Longhorns tournament chances.
According to Bracketology with Joe Lunardi, who appeared on the Big Monday broadcast for ESPN, Texas is in the tournament as of now, falling in at a 9-seed.
For all intents and purposes, Texas has enough on its résumé to sneak in at a No. 9 or No. 10 seed. However, it isn’t a guarantee by any means.
The Longhorns have to win their regular season finale against a desperate TCU team.
If Texas drops the finale on its senior day to the Horned Frogs, it will enter the conference tournament at 16-15, with a loss in the Big 12 tournament threatening to make Texas a 16-16 team, which doesn’t bode well as far as tournament chances go.
The Longhorns regular-season finale will end in a fitting way for a team that hasn’t been able to string more than three consecutive wins together since November.
Texas is either going to get out of its own way and start hot and finish strong, or it’s going to have to overcome a slow start against a Big 12 team that is also playing for its tournament life.