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Second-half surge not enough as Texas falls to LSU, 69-67

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Andrew Jones caught fire in the second half as Texas sparked a comeback, but LSU answered in the final minutes.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday afternoon, the Texas Longhorns took the hardwood against the LSU Tigers as part of the Big 12-SEC Challenge, and for the third time in as many appearances, Shaka Smart’s squad was not the better bunch, though just narrowly as the Horns fell to the Tigers in the final seconds, 69-67.

Once again, the first half was largely one to forget for the Longhorns.

Initially, the interior proved promising for the Horns as Kai Jones slammed home a dunk off of an offensive rebound before Jericho Sims added one of his own to give the Horns an early 6-2 edge. LSU answered with a 5-0 run behind a three from Darius Days and a jumper from Trendon Watford, only to see that lead recaptured by Texas seconds later after Sims’ second dunk to give the Horns an 8-7 lead entering the first media timeout.

However, thanks in large part to familiar issues, that proved to be Texas only lead for quite some time.

Despite their early success in the paint, Texas rapidly resorted to settling for jumpers and on many other instances — nine, to be exact — the possession ended with a turnover. One such turnover from Andrew Jones paved the way for a Marlon Taylor dunk, which capped a 9-0 run before Jones connected from the perimeter for three of his eight first-half points.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t much longer before LSU’s lead ballooned to double digits. On their first possession after the under-eight media timeout, a stumbling Skylar Mays connected on a floater for a 30-20 lead — an edge LSU maintained into the break, 42-32, even after Texas closed the half with back-to-back buckets from Kai Jones and Sims.

The next time Texas scored, though — a thunderous fastbreak jam from Donovan Williams — it merely cut into a 16-point deficit, 48-32, three and a half minutes into the second half after more turnovers and LSU offensive rebounds plagued the Horns.

With LSU answering only moments later, it appeared as if the Tigers were well on their way to running Texas off of its own court, but that wasn’t quite the case.

Rather, Texas fought.

Defensively, the Horns began to make one key stop after another, while Jones erupted on the other end, sparking and remaining on fire throughout what ultimately became a 16-4 Texas run, with Jones contributing nine points during that stretch.

When LSU did finally answer after its 16-point advantage was cut to just two, 54-52, Jones cut into the lead once again only seconds later, baking in a three to pull Texas within one, 56-55.

Less than a minute later, a three-point connection provided Texas with its first lead since the early stages of the first half, 58-56. Javonte Smarted knotted the action at 58 on the other end after a pair of free throws, but the next time LSU touched the ball, they were trailing again after Jones found Sims, who found his mark on a short-range jumper.

Unsurprisingly after erasing a 16-point deficit entirely and snagging the lead, the Longhorns owned all the momentum in front of one of the more notable Erwin Center crowds this season, but in this instance, the under-four media timeout proved to be Texas’ worst enemy, as LSU re-established itself in the final minutes.

Nearing the three-minute mark, Darius Days converted a layup to tie the game at 60, but far more notably, that layup sparked a 6-0 LSU run. The next time Texas got into the scoring column with a Coleman jumper to trim the lead to two, 64-62, only 29 seconds remained, and with Texas in must-foul made, LSU took care of business, sinking 5-of-6 free throws from that point forward to ultimately seal the narrow 69-67 win.

In what ultimately ended as a single-score loss — though a Coleman mid-range jumper at the buzzer made the score seem just a tad bit closer than it was — it’s quite easy to believe this game could have gone the other way.

However, it’s even easier to see why it didn’t: Texas converted only 3-of-6 free throws, compared to 16-of-20 for LSU, which also gathered 15 offensive rebounds, including many in key moments. If nothing else, aside from that notable stretch that saw Texas come back in the second half, those two figures highlight that LSU was far-and-away the more physical and aggressive team on Saturday, and that proved to be enough to escape Austin with a win.

Jones led the Longhorns with 20 points off the bench on 7-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-7 from three. Coleman and Sims joined him in double figures with 17 and 14, respectively, but no other Longhorn scored more than six, and no other starter scored more than four.

Now 12-7 on the season amid a three-game skid, Texas will be back in action and back on the road on Wednesday evening against the TCU Horned Frogs.