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No. 13 Texas 67, No. 20 Texas Tech 66: Matt Coleman ices another one as Horns win Big 12 opener

Texas will face Kansas at 8:30 p.m. Friday in Big 12 semis; Coleman: “Courtney looked at me, the bench looked at me and said, ‘Man, it's time to go.’

Texas guard Matt Coleman III, left,  celebrates with forward Kai Jones after Thursday night's 67-66 win over Texas Tech in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals. Coleman sank two free throws with 1.8 seconds left to lift the Longhorns.

Texas coaches and teammates love Matt Coleman III. But on Thursday, the Longhorns flashed the burnt-orange bat signal.

Texas needed Matty Ice.

“That’s been his nickname since he’s been here,” teammate Jase Febres said. “He’s ice-cold.”

Texas Tech won practically every 50-50 ball in Thursday night's Big 12 tournament quarterfinals. The officials weren’t helping, either. It was a night where Jericho Sims was called for a foul, but somehow, he’s the one bleeding. The Big 12 opener had disaster written all over it.

Then, Coleman went driving for a layup. He buried a 3-pointer, and the Horns were clicking inside T-Mobile Center. It was a wild back-and-forth down the stretch, and there was Coleman at the end, calmly hitting two free throws with 1.8 seconds left.

The first postseason win is always the hardest. “Hey, I was saying that all day,” Coleman said. In Texas’ 67-66 victory over Texas Tech, it felt like the Horns crossed a psychological hurdle and now they can relax and let it rip at the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo.

"Nice free throws," UT President Jay Hartzell tweeted, giving the Horns some social media power from the Tower.

The 13th-ranked Longhorns (18-7) beat the team that swept their regular-season series. Now, Texas will face 11th-ranked Kansas (20-8) in the Big 12 semifinals at 8:30 p.m. Friday. The Horns swept the Jayhawks during the regular season, even winning at Allen Fieldhouse by 25 on Jan. 2.

Texas guard Andrew Jones and Texas Tech guard Micah Peavy chase a loose ball during the first half of the Longhorns' win on Thursday.

Coleman is more than happy to lead the way. He had 19 points and six assists against No. 20 Tech (17-10). Febres added 15 with five 3-pointers, and three others finished in double figures. Sims had a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards, and Kai Jones rang up 11, scoring once on a wicked mid-range turnaround and a wild acrobatic layup late.

“Courtney looked at me, the bench looked at me and said, ‘Man, it's time to go,’” Coleman said. “It wasn’t just me. My teammates, Jase hit some big shots, Jericho, Kai had a hell of a second half. All the little things, man, put together allowed me to have the opportunity to shoot two free throws at the end of the game and make both of them.”

Texas coach Shaka Smart tipped his cap to the Red Raiders, because “it’s always a war against those guys.” But he’s totally comfortable letting Coleman drive the bus.

“Sometimes we’re on him about having more urgency,” Smart said. “But the flip side is he’s cool as a cucumber when pressure comes. That’s kind of the give and take. I had no doubt that he was going to make those two free throws.”

There was some incredibly awkward moments before the glorious end. Texas fell behind by 10 points, and thanks to all the whistles, had eight fouls early compared to Tech’s one. Courtney Ramey was called for a charge. Andrew Jones was called for an offensive foul while driving the court. Tech practically bullied its way to a 30-22 lead.

Texas forward Brock Cunningham fouls Texas Tech guard Clarence Nadolny during the first half. The Longhorns' 67-66 victory moves them into Friday night's Big 12 semifinals against second-seeded Kansas.

Sims got called for a foul with 3:37 remaining in the first half even though Tech’s Clarence Nadolny whacked him in the face. Sims sustained a gash near his right eye and had to be fixed up by the team’s cut man, just like a boxer. 

Seeing blood must’ve stirred something in the Horns. Sims dunked, Coleman hit a 3-pointer and then scored off a dazzling spin move and left-handed floater in the lane. Febres’ 3-pointer capped an 8-0 flurry to end the first half.

“We could have cracked, we could have folded plenty of times throughout there and got discouraged,” Febres said. “But our coach just continues to instill confidence into us. And we just feed off that.”

The postseason is all about maintaining focus, regardless of the situation. UT freshman Greg Brown lost his cool after getting called for a double dribble with 17:34 left. Smart subbed him out, and Brown blew up on the bench and left the playing floor. ESPN cameras showed him walking up the tunnel, back toward the locker room.

Teammates had rushed to Brown’s defense after he botched a between-the-legs dunk attempt in the regular-season finale against TCU. This veteran group, none of whom have won an NCAA Tournament game, probably has little patience for petulance. 

When Brown returned, it was obvious he was mentally checked out. Smart benched him the rest of the game, playing Royce Hamm Jr. down the stretch specifically because the senior was “engaged” on the sideline.

“He’s 18 years old, and I’ve been in his shoes before,” Febres said. “We’ve just got to continue to help him.”

Texas also survived on a night when Ramey struggled. He had no points on 0-of-5 shooting and had an embarrassing turnover just by throwing the ball inbound. “Tonight was not Courtney’s night, but man, he’s our guy,” Smart said. “We’re going to need him big time going forward.”

It says something that so many things can go against the Horns and they can still win. Friday is a new day and another chance — for Brown, for Ramey and even Coleman.

“I think it’s just continuing to just be ourselves, trust our identity and do what we know what it takes to win,” Coleman said, “and that’s just being unselfish and then just being playing hard and starting on the defensive end.”

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