The last week could not have been pleasant inside Cooley Pavilion.
Not after Texas coach Shaka Smart called two losses to lower-rung teams “downright frustrating and embarrassing” for the Longhorns.
“We were on ’em. We were on our guys,” Smart said. “That was probably two of the more tense, combative practices that we’ve had.”
Radford and Virginia Commonwealth were supposed to easy home victories. Sunday’s opponent, Purdue, was something all together different.
When the Longhorns stopped jacking up 3-point shots, things actually started to click. Guard Matt Coleman III started feeding Jaxson Hayes inside, the Horns started driving and penetrating and got more high-percentage looks in what became a 72-68 win.
“We just preached this week just hoop,” Coleman said. “Don’t think about it. Don’t be mechanic.
“Trying to play the right way sometimes causes you to become robotic, and you just forget that you’re playing a game that you love,” UT’s floor leader added. “You just gotta hoop and have fun with it.”
Purdue’s Carsen Edwards became the third opponent ever to score 40 points at the Erwin Center. It still wasn’t enough for the Boilermakers (6-4). He’s the seventh player, regardless of team, to crack 40. Kansas State’s Denis Clemente still holds the arena record with 44 points against UT on Jan. 31, 2009.
“It’s whatever,” Edwards said. “I just wanted to win, man.”
Texas (6-3) stopped its three-game losing skid that threatened to derail this young season. Everybody inside Cooley can take a deep breath again. Coleman had a season-high 22 points, Hayes added 14 and Kerwin Roach II and Elijah Mitrou-Long both had 10 each.
Texas finished 11-for-25 from 3-point range, similar totals to what UT did in the win over North Carolina. But it was the 12 made 2-pointers and 15-for-16 performance at the stripe that carried the day.
Purdue’s chance to tie or take the lead late went haywire when Aaron Wheeler lost the ball out of bounds with five seconds left.
“It was important,” Coleman said of the win, “but at the same time, it was a self-reminder that we’re really good. We’re going to be all right.”
The Radford and VCU losses left the Texas program unmoored. Those were supposed to be easy home games to pad the win total. Losing both were major red flags.
“To our guys credit, we just asked them to stay committed to what we want to do,” Smart said. “A lot of people say, well, you’ve got to change this or change that. You don’t change something after you don’t do it right. The first thing you do is you do it right. If you do it right, it works better. And that’s what we did tonight.”
Smart said it started with the players being in the right place mentally and not worrying about the wrong things. “It’s amazing how the basketball gods pay you back for that,” he said.
Maybe the basketball gods just like $5 beer.
Bevo XV was the star attraction outside the arena for the debut of Bevo Boulevard at the Erwin Center. Plenty of Purdue fans enjoyed the spectacle of $5 beers galore as there was a healthy amount of black and gold in the announced crowd of 10,048.
Texas, the second-worst 3-point shooting team in the Big 12, opened by taking 10 of the first 12 shots from 3-point range. Dribble, pass it around, waste the shot clock, jack it up, whatever. Some go in, most don’t.
The Boilermakers made only two of 16 3-point shots in the first half. Brick, fadeaway miss, clang. Back and forth it goes. Everybody’s a wanna-be Steph Curry.
Edwards may be the real deal, though. Texas could’ve landed the 6-foot-1 guard from Atascocita three years ago, but coaches offered a scholarship to Jacob Young instead. He’s since transferred to Rutgers. Edwards finished 15-for-26, hit seven 3-pointers and tied his career high point total.
The Longhorns didn’t have to match him shot-for-shot. They just needed to start taking better shots. That’s what happened after the break when Roach (five assists) and Coleman started looking for Hayes and others inside.
Coleman’s 12-footer in the paint with 43.8 seconds left was huge, giving the Horns a four-point cushion. Same goes for Mitrou-Long’s right-handed playground shot off a drive. And Courtney Ramey’s inbound pass to Coleman for a layup. And Hayes’ mid-range hook shot from the baseline. Notice a pattern?
Coleman threw one pass down to Hayes on the low block for a bucket, and the point guard turned around and skipped down the court. Coleman and the boys were having fun again.
The Longhorns finished with 17 assists on 23 made baskets. “We moved the ball. The ball didn’t stick,” Smart said. “For the most part, our guys moved the ball, shared the ball, got in the paint, had one more pass.”
There’s now a clear pattern for Texas to follow the rest of the season. Everything in moderation.
Taking 3-pointers is perfectly fine as long as the Longhorns mix in some dribble penetration, shots from the low block and elbows. Nothing but 3-pointers leads to ingestion.
“We cannot make it about the opponent,” Smart said. “We have to make it about what Texas needs to do to win.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.