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No. 13 Texas 80, Kansas State 77: Seesaw Horns get the offense rolling, but defense slips

Longhorns get big games from Andrew Jones, Greg Brown but Royce Hamm upset over lack of playing time

Texas guard Andrew Jones, seen here playing against Oklahoma State last Saturday, scored a team-high 24 points in Tuesday night's 80-77 win over Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan.

Maybe the Longhorns will someday look back at last Saturday’s disaster and chalk it up as a one-off loss that was simply unexplainable. A fluke. Just one of those days.

Even now, it’s still hard to explain what happened over the weekend in a double-overtime loss to Oklahoma State. 

“Sometimes that’s just the way the dice rolls,” UT guard Andrew Jones said three days later.

It’s even more confounding when you consider how well No. 13 Texas played offensively Tuesday night in an 80-77 win at Kansas State. The Horns were shooting well over 60% for most of the night before settling in at 52% inside a mostly empty and quiet Bramlage Coliseum.

Texas (12-5, 6-4 Big 12) snapped a three-game losing skid while Kansas State (5-16, 1-11) has now lost 11 straight. All that matters about the narrow final score is that Texas went 6 for 6 at the free throw line to close it out. You simply pocket the Big 12 road win and move on.

“We just had one of our worst offensive games, but we played well defensively,” Jones said. “We met all of our standards that we chart. So we just take it as a lesson to know that we have to play a complete game.

Jones had a team-high 24 points, with most of that coming after halftime. Greg Brown rang up 17 points by hitting four 3-pointers while getting seven rebounds and, oddly, his second technical foul in the last three games. Courtney Ramey had 14 points, and Matt Coleman III added 10 more, although that K-State rim denied him a dunk attempt.

But look at these 3-point shot totals. Texas made only five of 35 3-point shots against Oklahoma State and shot 25.3% overall, a six-year low. Then against Kansas State, the Horns were 13-for-25 (52%) from long range. What gives? Then, sounding like his coach, Jones said, “You know, the game is not necessarily won individually on one side. You’ve got to put two sides together, two halves together in order to be a complete championship-contending team.”

These Horns have been on a seesaw of late. The offense shined against No. 2 Baylor but the defense struggled. To be fair, the Bears have the most potent offense in the Big 12 and one of the best in the nation. So that can be excused.

But the offense was awful against the Cowboys while the defense was stellar. Then against the Wildcats, the offense was terrific while the defense was again suspect. It’s hard to get an accurate gauge on where this team is at or where it’s heading.

K-State shot 52% overall, hit nine of 20 3-point shots and got 22 points from Nijel Pack and 18 from Mike McGuirl. 

“I’m right there with you,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “First of all, in none of our recent games have we been terrific on both ends in the same game. Obviously, that’s what you have to be to beat the very, very best teams.”

Smart said the defensive energy was good against Oklahoma State, but “tonight not as much.”

“I think it starts with gaining consistency there,” said Smart, who will always take strong defense over strong offense if forced to choose.

“I like when stuff gets exposed in terms of your team,” Smart said. “We have a lot of stuff for our team that’s out there for us to really have to own, which I think it’s great.”

This team must be tighter with the ball. Texas had 17 turnovers against Baylor, 21 against Oklahoma State and back down to 10 against Kansas State.

“We have a team with older guards. We should be able to take care of the ball really well,” Smart said.

More players have to step up. Jones, Texas’ leading scorer, said he made a conscious effort to get teammates involved against Kansas State.

“At the end of the day, I want to win,” Jones said. “It doesn’t mean anything if you score 20 and lose.”

But that also means players must be under control. Brown got off to a hot start against K-State but landed in foul trouble and got another technical. 

“I think this was one of his better games,” Smart said. “I just think he really played with poise. He really had the look of a guy that was playing efficiently.”

Then, Smart was rather direct when he said, “It’s pretty simple. Just not say anything to the refs and not stare down the opposing team.”

And it appears Smart must get everybody on the same page. Royce Hamm Jr., a reserve senior forward, did not play. He averages 2.4 points and 3.7 rebounds but is known for bringing energy and hustle off the bench.

“Loyalty means nothing nowadays!” Hamm tweeted immediately afterward, either from the locker room or the team bus. 

“You know, I’m not on Twitter,” Smart said in reaction to Hamm’s tweet. The coach wanted to give some minutes to Jase Febres and Kamaka Hepa; the pair combined for eight points. 

Texas forward Royce Hamm Jr. drives into the lane as Oklahoma State defenders offer resistance during last Saturday's game in Stillwater.

“I would love to play all these guys all the time,” Smart said. “But at the end of the day, there’s nothing going on from the standpoint of anyone doing anything wrong. We’re just trying to win the game. We’re trying to sub for what’s best for Texas.

“Basketball’s a fascinating interplay between being a team sport but also in a lot of ways being looked at individually in some ways,” he added. “It’s a choice. Do you want to make the sacrifices and the commitment to do everything that goes into being a special unit, a special team?”

This team can still be special, Smart believes. The Horns’ top three guards certainly believe that’s true, too. But it’s not a given and certainly not easy.

“It’s something we have to fight for every day,” Smart said. “And we’re no different.”

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