Shaka Smart keeps hammering away at how he wants to “change the culture” of Texas basketball. What does that even mean anyway? Well, for starters, it means responding to adversity.
Just how would Texas respond after last Saturday’s discouraging loss at TCU? Smart himself couldn’t be so sure.
On Tuesday, the Longhorns had one of their most inspired efforts of the season. Isaiah Taylor scored 28 points and four others finished in double figures as Texas clipped 17th-ranked Iowa State with a 94-91 overtime win at the Erwin Center.
Georges Niang, one of the nation’s best all-around players, missed a 3-pointer before the final buzzer, and the Horns (10-6) improved to 2-2 in Big 12 play. It also wiped away any lingering thoughts of last season’s double-digit meltdown against Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament.
“I think there was some soul-searching coming off that last game,” Smart said, referencing the TCU debacle, “and I appreciate the way they responded.”
Essentially, it was a mid-January gut-check, and Texas responded quite well.
Javan Felix (13 points) showed calm poise when he escaped a double team on the baseline and got the ball to Taylor in overtime. Connor Lammert (11 points) missed a key 3-pointer but held his ground against Niang as the star swingman missed a jumper and then turned it over in OT.
Freshman Tevin Mack hit only four 3-point shots in the first three league games. But he responded with a 14-point outburst, going 3 for 8 from 3-point range. Fellow freshman Eric Davis also picked himself up by scoring 14 more.
“When does Tevin Mack hit (three) the 3-pointers he had?,” Niang said. “They were hungry for a win and they shot the leather off the ball.”
The players held it together on the court, but that doesn’t mean Smart isn’t prone to weak moments himself. “We’re not perfect at it,” Lammert said. “Even coach has some times, like when Isaiah didn’t get that call at the end of regulation.”
Taylor went for the game-winner in the closing seconds of the second half. Officials didn’t blow their whistle when it appeared he may have traveled on the previous play, when Taylor used his pivot foot for a step, scoop and score. So they stayed quiet when Taylor appeared to get whacked with the game tied, 87-87. Iowa State (12-4, 1-3 Big 12) missed a prayer and both teams went to the extra period.
While he didn’t get that particular call, Taylor was aggressive all night long. He was 11 for 17 shooting, pulled down six rebounds and dished out six assists.
“Thought Isaiah was a different person,” Smart said. “I don’t know if he has a twin brother. But that was the evil twin up in Fort Worth.”
It’s beaming clear how the rest of the season will unfold. “Whenever Isaiah sets us up, we have a rhythm,” Davis said. As Taylor goes, so go the Longhorns.
“I did get down on myself too much at TCU,” Taylor said. “Things weren’t going our way as a team. But he just focuses on response. I think that’s what me and my team did today.”
Smart also stresses what he calls multiple-effort plays. For example, Kendal Yancy had an excellent sequence in the first half when he chased down a loose ball, had two offensive rebounds and collected a 3-pointer all in one possession.
Demarcus Holland, back in the lineup after missing the TCU game due to his grandmother’s funeral, hustled through various plays. Teammates will probably razz him over a blown dunk with 8:43 remaining in the second half, though.
How should Texas respond as the schedule gets tougher? Take some advice from Niang. “Amnesia,” he said. “Next game. That’s how we’ve got to think about this league.”