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Golden: Coleman's leadership example shines through on Ramey's rough night

No. 4 Texas lost 79-77 to No. 15 Texas Tech after leading by double digits in the second half

Texas guard Courtney Ramey (3) covers his face as he walks off the basketball court after losing 79-77 to Texas Tech on Wednesday night. Ramey, the team's leading scorer, made some uncharacteristic errors down the stretch as the Horns allowed a 10-point lead to slip away in the second half.
  • Texas dropped to 10-2 overall and 4-1 in Big 12 play.
  • Ramey, the team's leading scorer, missed a layup and turned the ball over down the stretch.
  • “I wasn't really myself down the stretch," Ramey said. "But I'm going to learn from it, and that's what good players do.

Matt Coleman finished up his postgame interviews Wednesday night. The 79-77 loss to Texas Tech had the feel of an NCAA Tournament game, with hard fouls, plenty of trash talk and great plays at both ends. The fourth-ranked Longhorns blew a double-digit lead and the chance to remain in first place in the Big 12, and Coleman was visibly disappointed.

He was understandably frustrated, angry and hurt.

He was also staying.

The showers could wait.

Coleman understands the concept of leadership. When you're tasked with that responsibility, it extends well beyond the basketball court or even the locker room.

Coleman knew Courtney Ramey was on his way to the interview room. Ramey has been so clutch and has delivered time and time again for arguably the most improved team in the country, but he uncharacteristically missed a layup and committed a critical turnover down the stretch. And he was on the defender's end of Mac McClung's jumper that ended Texas' six-game winning streak.

So Coleman stayed to support a friend and teammate who was in pain.

“He's a great player,” Coleman said of Ramey. “He’s come a long way. His attitude is great. And he's a competitor. If it happened to anybody, I don't think nobody else would take it as hard on the chest as him just because of how bad he wants to win.”

Ramey is one of the toughest players in the country and the team's unofficial sergeant-at-arms in the locker room. He's often his own worst critic and is prone to losses of confidence. He and Coleman form this team's backbone, and no one in the locker room understands Ramey more.

Coleman knows that for the Horns to continue their upward arc, Ramey will have to be at his best, and if that means a comforting pat on the shoulder after a gut punch of a loss, then it's happening.

Texas guard Matt Coleman, diving for a loose ball against Texas Tech, stayed in the interview room to support teammate Courtney Ramey, who was disappointed after some late errors played a role in the Longhorns' first Big 12 loss of the season.

So Coleman quietly stood in the background in full view of the Zoom camera as Ramey faced the music Wednesday night.

“I made a couple of bad plays,” Ramey said. “I wasn't really myself down the stretch. But I'm going to learn from it, and that's what good players do. I'm not going to dwell on it. It hurts right now because I want to win every game. But I'm going to get past it and be there for my team. They're going to be there for me.”

The Horns should have won, having led by as many as 12 points, but they didn’t. With that said, the difference between this team and previous Shaka Smart productions is the players now walk onto the floor with tons more belief than hope. Sure, they will lose that shiny No. 4 national ranking and drop somewhere into the bottom half of the top 10, but Texas remains one of the best teams in the country, the latest disappointment notwithstanding.

Courtney Ramey is unable to stop Mac McClung from making this jumper to lift the Red Raiders to victory,

Smart understandably wanted this one in the worst way. A 5-0 start in conference would have kept Texas on pace with No. 2 Baylor, plus it would have come against Tech coach Chris Beard, a highly regarded Texas grad whose name has come up as a possible replacement for Smart more than once over the past couple of seasons. After trailing 2-1 two minutes into the game, the Horns took over and didn't trail until McClung coolly knocked down a jumper over Ramey’s outstretched arm to complete the comeback with three seconds left.

Not to worry. Smart has his program headed in the right direction, thanks in large part to the two guards who have had each other's back through the down times over the past three seasons. Wednesday was the latest example.

“Those guys are really close," Smart said. "They put a lot into this. They put a lot into our team and into each other.”

It’s the type of of total investment that has made the Horns a really fun watch in Coleman’s senior year and Ramey’s junior.

Let’s face it: Texas plays in a beehive of a league and has had its share of close calls, winning in similar fashion at West Virginia on Andrew Jones' buzzer-beating bomb. The Big 12 is projected to send seven teams to the NCAA Tournament this spring, so there are very few easy wins. And just as the Mountaineers found out, it’s dangerous to allow a really good team to hang around.

Credit should go to Beard's Red Raiders for hitting Texas in the mouth after a lackluster first half, for taking away scoring machine Jones — who attempted only one field goal in the second half after scoring 18 points in the first 20 minutes — and for making some huge shots when they had to have them.

As for the Horns, there is nothing wrong with a 4-1 start in the conference and a 10-2 overall record after going 19-12 and 9-9 last season. There are areas that can be improved, such as the 13 missed free throws and the inability to convert any of Texas Tech's turnovers into points, and there are also parts of the game that will make UT a real player moving forward.

Smart has done a great job of getting a veteran ballclub ready to play each night regardless of opponent — an area in which he has struggled over the years — while his floor leaders have provided some needed tough love to big man Jericho Sims and great mentorship to future NBA players Kai Jones and Greg Brown, a mercurial two-way performer who plays like a young Tracy McGrady.

“There's a lot more games to be played,” Coleman said.  “It's conference play. It would be wonderful to go undefeated, but you know you're going to have some games and  some stretches that will be tough. The  better teams respond. So it's all about responding and moving forward.”

Both are beyond thankful they won’t have to wait too long to get back on the floor with Kansas State rolling into Club Erwin on Saturday.

Ramey will respond well because his buddy and the locker room have his back.