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Texas 77, Oklahoma State 74: Greg Brown’s season starting to take full flight

Texas freshman has season high in points, rebounds as teammates smother OSU’s Cade Cunningham

Texas' Greg Brown (4) makes a basket against Oklahoma during a basketball game at the University of Texas Frank Erwin Center, in Austin, Texas, on Dec. 20, 2020. Texas wins over Oklahoma 77-74.

Here’s some free advice to Texas basketball fans for the new year. Come see Greg Brown. 

Don’t let the pandemic scare you away. Everybody at the Erwin Center is wearing masks. Don’t worry about the traffic. There isn’t any. Every game is on TV, but it’s just not the same thing.

Fans didn’t really grasp what Texas had in Kevin Durant until it was too late. Recent one-and-done freshmen Jarrett Allen, Mo Bamba and Jaxson Hayes all showed glimpses at times but weren’t consistent.

Brown is different. This home-grown product is developing right here, right now. The Vandegrift star was jacked sky-high Sunday to face his old AAU teammate Cade Cunningham but didn’t let the moment engulf him. 

Brown had 24 points and 14 rebounds, both season highs, in a highly entertaining 77-74 win over Oklahoma State. The 11th-ranked Longhorns (7-1, 1-0 Big 12) won their Big 12 opener going into the Christmas break.

This Texas team, full of veterans and one sensational newcomer, looks like possibly a serious league contender come January. Even in a pandemic, plenty of tickets are still available.

“Let's be honest. Cade was literally the No. 1 player in the (recruiting) class. He’s projected to be the No. 1 pick in the draft,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “Greg is a heck of a player in his own right. And he wants to be thought of in a certain way as well.”

Texas' Greg Brown (4) reacts after a making three-point basket against Oklahoma State during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020.

Texas has limited attendance at the Erwin Center to 3,100 because of the pandemic. The cardboard cutouts sitting courtside can make only so much noise. The building should have been full and roaring down the stretch as Texas went on a 17-0 run sparked by back-to-back Brown 3-pointers.

Fans would have gone wild when Andrew Jones buried a 3-pointer over Cunningham to give Texas a nine-point lead. They would have gone ballistic when Matt Coleman III went to the other end and drew a charge as Cunningham tried to run him over.

But perhaps most important, Texas fans should have seen the way Brown’s late rebounding kept the Cowboys (6-1, 0-2 Big 12) from getting extra possessions in a tight game.

“As Kawhi said, board man gets paid,” Brown said, referring to Clippers star Kawhi Leonard.

Brown has now led the Horns in scoring three straight games. His 18 points against Texas State and 17 against Sam Houston State can be dismissed because of the opponents. You can’t dismiss a 7-for-14 shooting performance against Oklahoma State, not with Cunningham out there running and gunning, too.

Brown opened with a running dunk on Cunningham, hit three 3-pointers total and waited for the right shots. On defense, the 6-foot-9 sensation had three blocks, including one on Cunningham. All of this coming in 26 minutes.

“He played really, really well,” UT guard Andrew Jones said. “He was comfortable, didn’t force anything today. He played Texas brand of basketball. I don’t think he got caught up into the hype of playing against his old teammate.”

Oh, Brown was extra hyped, no question. “He did a pretty good job of kind of masking it,” Smart said. “But I knew.”

Brown said his mindset coming in was to “put my team in a great position to win this game.” Still, it’s obvious he’s getting more and more confident each night out. He may have started 0-for-10 from 3-point range in the first three games. But Brown is 10-for-28 from long range in the last five.

All Smart insists is that Brown take each shot in rhythm. Step in, left, right, pull the trigger. Two from the corner looked natural. Brown also looked good driving and scoring on a finger-roll at the rim, too.

“Every game, game by game, I just get a little more comfortable,” Brown said. “So I’ve just got to keep playing, keep practicing and keep on taking my teammates guidance. And I'll get there soon.”

As for Cunningham, he was flustered all day by the defensive combination of Coleman and Courtney Ramey. Coleman played all 40 minutes and finished with 15 points, nine coming at the free throw line. Ramey was 0-for-6 shooting but had his hands full and fouled out after 31 minutes. 

Cunningham finished with 25 points on 9-of-19 shooting. He was just 1-for-6 from 3-point range. 

Oklahoma's Cade Cunningham (2), left,  dribbles as Texas' Matt Coleman III (2) guards him during a basketball game at the University of Texas Frank Erwin Center, in Austin, Texas, on Dec. 20, 2020. Texas wins over Oklahoma 77-74.

The Cowboys proved last season they could come into Austin and mess things up for the home team. Texas actually looked out of whack in the first half, forcing some bad shots and not penetrating enough. 

“We had some guys (at halftime) that were visibly upset or not quite in the greatest place,” Smart said, “but they did a great job turning the page. That sparked us.”

Brown provided a spark. His dunk and 3-point shooting got Texas going. Kai Jones almost a highlight-reel dunk but got fouled. Andrew Jones’ 3-pointer gave Texas a 55-42 lead, and the Horns were off and running.

But where exactly is this team headed? And who’s watching, other than the security guards in neon yellow shirts? 

Eight fans were cheering Brown from the lower portion of section 40 as he did a post-game radio interview. Several male voices could be heard from the upper deck shouting “Good game, Greg! We love you!” 

Brown jumped up to high-five a Texas fan as he was running off the floor to the locker room.

“I've talked to some fans that have said, ‘Hey, I really want to come but you know all the COVID stuff.’ And I completely get it,” Smart said. “I mean, it’s just a personal choice.”

Smart is appreciative of the fans that do come, no question. He can’t say anything definitive, but someone else sure can. Come see Greg Brown before it’s too late.

“You know, we’ve got a lot of room for growth,” Smart said. “We’ve got some exciting individual players on our team that are fun to watch.”

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