The euphoria of playing college basketball at an elite-level school like Texas must be wearing off for some of the Longhorns’ newcomers. They’re discovering life in this fishbowl isn’t so easy after all.
All the adulation is great, addictive even. But if Texas keeps playing like it did Monday against Tennessee State, some of these Horns will lose their minds. And lots of Big 12 games, too.
Matt Coleman’s mid-range floater with 9 seconds sealed a 47-46 win, but gosh, this was bad basketball. Two air-balled 3-pointers, an air-balled free throw, backcourt violations, traveling calls, crazy passes out of bounds, you name it.
“I think if they were honest, they would tell you they’re not really playing with the loose, aggressive nature,” UT coach Shaka Smart said. “There’s some tension there.”
It was obvious that Coleman was bothered afterward. He wasn’t his care-free, confident self. The 6-foot-2 guard, who got off to a superb start with his ball control, has now committed 10 turnovers in the last two games. That’s an unthinkable — not to mention unacceptable — total for the starting point guard.
“At the end of the day, you just want to win,” Coleman said. “It felt good just pulling out a win, no matter how the game went, offensively, defensively, individually or as a team.”
On one end, the Longhorns (8-3) are playing some of the best defense in the country. They’ve moved up to No. 6 nationally in defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy’s analytical website. But watching what transpires on the other end can be mind-numbing at times.
“Few things about that offense,” Smart said before going into a off-the-cuff examination. “When we have an open shot, don’t shoot it like a hot potato.”
The Longhorns started the game 0 for 11 from 3-point range and finished the night 3 for 21. Kerwin Roach Jr. hit back-to-back 3-pointers as part of a scoring flurry before halftime as Texas took a 25-21 lead at the break.
Several times, shots came early in the shot clock. Guards weren’t looking inside, or they’d miss open windows. The Tigers (5-5) sagged into the lane, making it difficult to get the ball to Mo Bamba or Dylan Osetkowski, but it wasn’t exactly impossible.
“We had some good passes into the interior, but then we had some that we just flat-out threw away, which again is a lack of poise,” Smart said.
Bamba simply got schooled by Christian Mekowulu, a 6-foot-9 junior from Lagos, Nigeria. Mekowulu blocked Bamba’s first shot, and then he went right at Bamba for an easy score. It was as if Mekowulu was delivering a message. He wasn’t scared.
Bamba wilted. The 6-foot-11 athlete many project to be a top-five NBA lottery pick next spring didn’t score his first basket until there was 8:12 left. In the game. “The last couple games for Matt, he’s been really, really tight,” Smart said. “Tonight was Mo’s worst game.”
Nobody was having any luck outside. Bamba wasn’t doing anything in the middle. Eric Davis Jr. and Andrew Jones were both sidelined with wrist injuries. Davis could return Friday at Alabama; Jones could miss the Big 12 opener against Kansas.
Add it all up, and it makes for a long night offensively.
Osetkowski appeared to give the Horns some breathing room with an impressive 17-foot turnaround jumper followed by a two-handed dunk. Texas led 45-38 at that point with 3:58 remaining.
But Mekowulu slammed one home, Daniel Cummings hit a 3-pointer and Delano Spencer swished another from the right corner. Suddenly, the Tigers had a 46-45 lead with 1:26 left.
With time disappearing, Coleman cut through an opening and threw up a floater that splashed true. The Tigers didn’t have a great response. Spencer threw up a wild shot that didn’t have a chance, and the Horns escaped.
“You can’t let one play distract you from the next play,” Roach said. “You’ve just keep your head up and keep playing. That’s it.”
Can they escape their own minds, though? The games only get tougher from here on out, although in some warped way, that could be a positive. Smart has commented before that he’s seen players get mentally amped up for big games while the perceived smaller ones get short shrift.
“Again, I think these guys really have good intentions,” Smart said. “But they’re going to need to understand, you’ve got to be a big boy when you’re playing college basketball. You gotta have to go out and make the right play.
“Is is a trend or a pattern? We’ll see.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The post Texas 47, Tennessee 46: Defense, Matt Coleman’s late jumper helps Longhorns avoid upset appeared first on Hook ‘Em.
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