Lindell Wigginton #5 of the Iowa State Cyclones drives toward the basket as James Banks III #00 of the Texas Longhorns defends during the first round of the Big 12 Basketball Tournament at the Sprint Center on March 7, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Foul-prone Matt Coleman rises to the Longhorns’ rescue

Posted March 8th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • Freshman point guard Matt Coleman sat the bench for seven minutes with foul trouble but hit the winning shot.
  • Besides scoring eight points and making three steals, Coleman located his teammate's missing tooth.
  • Assistant coach Mike Morrell wasn't surprised Coleman hit the game-sealing jumper. "It was gutsy."

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Matt Coleman accepted the pats on the back and the well wishes from giddy Longhorns fans who’d made the long trip.

The freshman smiled broadly as a stranger congratulated him on his game-sealing jumper in the final 44 seconds, the last bucket of the game and the decisive blow for Texas’ 68-64 win over Iowa State on Wednesday night.

And then someone brought up the Longhorns’ next opponent. Angry rain clouds all but formed.

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So what do you remember about Texas’ series against Texas Tech?

Suddenly, the smile evaporated. The point guard lowered his head, then looked back up.

“Oh yeah,” Coleman said a bit somberly. “The first time we won. The second time we lost.

“And I missed some free throws.”

PHOTOS: Texas tops Iowa State 68-64 at Big 12 tournament

Boy, did he. The foul trouble that has too often plagued him and the missed free throws in Lubbock cost the Longhorns a very winnable game and potential sweep of a talented Red Raiders team that pushed Kansas to the brink of the league title before the Jayhawks’ inevitable Big 12 championship.

Win that game on the road  on the last day of January — ultimately a two-point loss in overtime — and Texas wouldn’t have approached this Big 12 post-season tournament with the urgency required to firm up an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

But the Longhorns dropped that one, much like they lost so many heart-breakers like the one in Stillwater, the home game with Kansas State and another one at the Erwin Center to Baylor. Seven overtime games, Texas has played in this fitful season of injuries, illness and suspension, and four of them Texas lost. While that may have wreaked some havoc on coaches and fans’ nerves, the close games probably galvanized this battered team playing without its best center, perimeter scorer and sixth man.

“We’ve been in like nine overtimes or something,” team leader Kerwin Roach II said. “So we’ve been through these situations before. We stay calm. Why? We have two whys. Andrew Jones and the NCAA Tournament.”

They’re playing hard for Jones, who is battling leukemia. They’re playing to get into the NCAAs after a year’s absence. They’re not looking for style points.

Winning ugly isn’t so much a mantra as a way of life for these Longhorns.

Shaka Smart’s crew needed no extra period on Wednesday night at the Sprint Center because Jacob Young seized a crucial rebound down the stretch, Jericho Sims grabbed a career-high 15 of them as a boards monster, Jase Febres drained three bombs and Dylan Osetkowski alternated between terrific and terrible during stretches of this streetfight against the Cyclones.

But Coleman hit the biggest shot. He was more than prepared to take it.

“I had it in my mind,” he said. “It was winning time.”

Texas’ 19th win of the year was hardly the prettiest and, for much of the night, may have qualified as the ugliest as the Longhorns were errant on their first nine three-pointers and sloppy with almost as many turnovers as field goals in the early going. But this patchwork lineup of basically six players — a seventh, James Banks, was on the floor for just six minutes — hung tough against a scrappy Iowa State team that led by 10 in the opening half before Osetkowski fueled what would be a 22-3 Texas run over two halves.

And this may have been the first game in Big 12 tournament history where Roach had seven assists but a local dentist had an even bigger assist.

An inadvertent elbow from a Cyclone split one of Roach’s front teeth in half, but even Coleman was doing his floor leader thing. It’s all about court awareness for point guards, and Coleman located the missing tooth — well, half of it — and gave it to a Texas trainer for safekeeping until Roach can visit with a Kansas City orthodontist Thursday morning.

Then, Coleman really got the job done. After sitting for more than seven minutes following his third and fourth personal fouls over an eight-second span, he stewed on the bench but kept his focus before re-entering the game with about six minutes to play.

“We were trying to figure out when to put him back in the game,” Smart said. “He’s a freshman, so sometimes they do bone-headed things, and he fouled on accident. But we needed someone that could execute our play and make a play like he did when he hit that jumper.”

He also had a nifty assist on an Osetkowski trey. He drained two free throws to help Texas regain the lead for good. And he was perfect on his mid-range jumper with 44 seconds remaining to put the Longhorns ahead by the final margin.

“I knew it was good,” Coleman said.

“It was gutsy,” Longhorn assistant coach Mike Morrell said.

So was his overall play, not to mention his return with 6:13 to play and his ability to make plays without picking up a fifth foul and getting disqualified.

Texas will need more gutsy play to continue advancing through the Big 12 tournament, needing four wins in four days to take the championship, but it all starts with Texas Tech. The harsh memory still fresh in his mind, Coleman will be ready.

“I took that loss hard on my heart,” he said of the January defeat. “I’m looking forward to it.”

 

 

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