Texas head coach Shaka Smart shouts to his players during a NCAA basketball game against Michigan in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Nick Wagner/American-Statesman

Men's Basketball

Late-game collapses cost Longhorns a shot at being in first place

Texas held scoreless late against Baylor, almost the same against Oklahoma state; Bamba still has the green light on 3s

Posted January 15th, 2018

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Five games into Big 12 play, the average conference-wide margin of victory or defeat is a fraction under four points per game. That’s two baskets. One 3-pointer and a free throw.

Or, two defensive stops.

The margin for error is razor-thin for all 10 teams, including Texas. These games are far too competitive for extended lapses.

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Yet that’s what the Longhorns endured the last two Saturdays in road losses at Baylor and Oklahoma State. Two winnable games slipped away. The Horns didn’t score a single point in the last 5:03 against the Bears. They managed only three points in the last 6:33 against the Cowboys.

The Baylor loss could have gone either way down the stretch, and the Bears emerged with a 69-60 victory. Texas just gave away a 12-point lead in Stillwater and watched Oklahoma State celebrate 65-64 come-from-behind win.

As a result, Texas (11-6) is mired in a three-way tie for fifth place with a 2-3 league mark instead of being tied for first along with No. 8 Texas Tech, which comes to Austin on Wednesday. The Red Raiders (15-2, 4-1) have already knocked off No. 10 Kansas and No. 2 West Virginia.

“One thing our team’s done well all year — knock on wood — is that we’ve put ourselves in position down the stretch,” UT coach Shaka Smart said on Monday. “Some of those games we ended up winning, some we ended up losing.

“We’ve really got to work on continuing to get better in the last 6-8 minutes of the game,” he added, “whether we’re playing with a lead, or the score is neck and neck, or we’re a little bit behind. We’re going to be in those kinds of games.”

So what happened against Iowa State and TCU that didn’t in the last two losses? Guard Matt Coleman knifed through the defense in overtime against the Cyclones and got to the rim. Forward Dylan Osetkowski set up down low against the Frogs and repeatedly went work on the low block.

In both games, guards penetrated and kicked to shooters in the corners for 3-pointers. None of that happened against the Cowboys.

Bamba from downtown: Smart said from the beginning that 6-foot-11 center Mo Bamba had the green light to shoot 3-pointers. He’s 7-for-31 (22.6 percent) from beyond the arc this season, though.

“We’re going to turn on a TV in about 3-4 years and see him just raining threes,” Smart said.

Bamba’s outside shooting can be debated. With the Horns using a big lineup with Bamba, Osetkowski and Jericho Sims, opponents are going to let Bamba shoot outside jumpers, Smart said. “The question as a coach or as players out on the court is, is that the best shot we can get on this possession?,” Smart said.

Roach on the mend: As expected, guard Kerwin Roach Jr. will not play Wednesday against Texas Tech and he’s likely out for Saturday’s game at West Virginia. Roach suffered a minor fractured left hand injury that only got worse. Against Baylor, he could barely dribble with his non-shooting hand.

Roach was scheduled for another X-ray this week, but the likely diagnosis is more rest. Texas needs their defensive ace back as soon as possible. Roach was also averaging 10.1 points per game.

Where’s Banks?: Without Roach and Andrew Jones, the Longhorns have used just a seven-man rotation the last two games. Sophomore James Banks, a 6-foot-10 center from Decatur, Ga., has not played in the last five games.

“He’s got to do more in practice from the standpoint of putting his body on plays and giving max effort all the time,” Smart said. “He’s a great kid and someone who has shown in the past the can help us. But he’s got to go earn it.”

Jones update: Smart said he’s gone to visit Andrew Jones in his undisclosed Austin-area hospital almost every day. The sophomore guard has been diagnosed with leukemia, and Monday was the first time Smart acknowledged that Jones will not return this season.

“He’s got an incredible spirit, and he’s a guy that is a great fighter and it really provides a sense of perspective and understanding for me,” Smart said.

The fundraising drive started last Friday to help Jones and his family is nearing $100,000.

“The level of support that people have provided, it just says a lot about Texas and UT and how much people care about the student-athletes that make this place athletically what it is,” Smart said.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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