In what ultimately became a showdown of two highly-touted true freshman, it was Greg Brown III who got the upper-hand, leading the No. 11 Texas Longhorns to a nail-biting 77-74 win over Cade Cunningham and the Oklahoma State Cowboys — and the finish was far more entertaining that the start.
The Longhorns opened their conference slate in sluggish fashion, struggling a bit on both ends of the floor — most notably on the offensive end. Oklahoma State’s zone caused some immediate discomfort for Texas, leading to a pair of early turnovers. Texas’ first points didn’t come until more than two minutes into the contest, but when they did, they were worth the wait, as Brown added another highlight dunk to his tape — this time skying over potential No. 1 overall pick and fellow highly-touted freshman, Cade Cunningham.
But those easy opportunities were few and far between for Texas early on — due to an inability to connect on the threes Okie State’s zone allowed, as well as forcing the action to create elsewhere, Texas entered the under 16 media timeout just 2-of-7 from the field with three turnovers.
Similar struggles remained out of the break, as a Jericho Sims offensive foul and a missed three from Courtney Ramey led to a transition dunk from Cunningham. Kai Jones did his part to inject some life into the Longhorns early with a dunk on one end and a block on the other, but another Sims turnover and more missed shots saw Texas produce only seven points entering the second media timeout behind a 3-of-10 shooting effort and four turnovers.
Nevertheless, despite Texas early shooting woes — starting 0-of-6 from three — and Oklahoma State finding early success in the paint, Texas remained within arm’s length. Brown finally provided Texas with its first three to tie the action at 15, sparking a brief flurry of Longhorns threes, as Kai Jones and Andrew Jones followed suit to give Texas a 21-17 edge to cap a 12-2 Texas run.
But save for a quick four-point spurt from Donovan Williams, the later portion of the half largely favored the Pokes, as Cunningham led the way for a 17-8 run to close the half, which Texas entered after a first half that featured nine turnovers and an 11-of-34 shooting performance.
Fortunately for Texas, the floodgates opened in the second half.
On Texas’ first possession, Coleman found a cutting Sims for a dunk for Sims’ first points of the game. The next time down, Andrew Jones built upon his 12 first half points with a step back jumper. Moments later, Coleman connected on a three to eliminate OSU’s lead and tie the game at 36 after Texas managed seven points in its first four possessions of the second half.
That was just the beginning.
The Pokes again captured the lead, 42-38, behind a 4-0 run, but the ensuing stretch ultimately laid the foundation for what became a last-second Longhorns win.
Coleman connected on another three to pull within one, 42-41, and Brown topped that with two threes in as many series, allowing Texas to capture lead amid a 9-0 run, and it didn’t stop there. A pair of free throws from Brown extended the run to 11-0 and a personal 8-0 run by Brown, and after forcing a turnover to enter the under 12 media timeout, Williams found the net on a short floater to keep Texas rolling with a 13-0 run to extend the lead to 51-42.
13-0 run for the Horns.— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) December 20, 2020
Greg Brown III pic.twitter.com/JQgVWFpzSX
“I thought our guys really won this game by the way that they came out in the locker room at halftime,” Shaka Smart told the media after the game. “First half certainly a lot of things didn’t go our way offensively. We had some guys that were visibly, you know, just kind of upset or not quite in the greatest place. But they did a great job turning the page. And that sparked us, and that gave us a chance to go on a big run, grab a lead and obviously we lead we needed to lead with the way that the game ended.”
It wasn’t until after Andrew Jones drilled a three and increased the run to 17-0 and the lead to 54-41 that Cunningham was able to stop the bleeding with a triple, sparking what became an offensive onslaught of his own as OSU clawed its way back into the game.
What was once a 13-point Texas cushion reduced to only seven, 57-50, after a three from Avery Anderson led to the under-8 media timeout. Coming out of the break, though, the Cunningham show continued. Whether it was utilizing post moves, muscling his way into the paint through contact, or simply slashing for a layup, Cunningham quickly produced six quick points for the Pokes, though his displeasure with a no call on a potential and-one prompted a technical foul and two free — and costly — points for Texas.
But Cunningham continued to showcase his offensive arsenal, spinning through the defense to force a foul and drawing another moments later on a transition three-point attempt to cut Texas’ cushion to 67-62. Another three from Andrew Jones provided Texas with a bit of breathing room, 70-61, but a transition turnover from Jones allowed
Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe to capitalize with an and-one to cap a 5-0 run with 1:27 to play. Those were the final points until only 37 seconds remained, but along the way, Brown’s impact continued to be felt with a key rebound and a thunderous rejection to the sidelines. And when those next points were score, it was Brown connected on a free throw to give Texas a 71-66 edge.
In familiar fashion, Cunningham responded with another layup, which Coleman essentially negated on the other end with a pair of clutch free throws. Only seconds later, the lead was back down to a single score, 73-71, after Bryce Williams drilled a quick three, but Brown provided that much-needed edge again with two more free throws.
Yet another three from Williams with only two ticks again forced Texas to respond, and Coleman did just enough, sinking his first free throw to solidify a 77-74 win and a 7-1 start to the season.
In building upon what was previously his career day against Sam Houston State, Brown put forth another career showing, totaling 24 points, including 18 in the second half, along with 14 boards and three blocks.
“My teammates,” Brown told Longhorn Network’s Lowell Galindo of his motivation during his post-game interview. “My teammates have been helping me throughout the week, just helping me get better, so I just wanted to pay them back by helping us win games. And today, I don’t know, something just got into me and I went crazy, but I just wanted to help my teammates win.”
Andrew Jones tied his career high with 22 points on 8-of-17 from the field, while Coleman continued 15 points, six boards, and four assists. Cunningham led all scorers with 25 points on 9-of-19 from the field. Williams (13) and Anderson (11) joined him in double figures.
Next up, the Longhorns (7-1, 1-0) will meet another non-conference foe, hosting Texas A&M-CC on Tuesday, Dec. 29 on Longhorn Network.