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Texas, a team ‘on their heels,’ snaps two-game skid by getting tough with Oklahoma State

Texas forward Tre Mitchell and guard Marcus Carr battle for a loose ball with Oklahoma State guard Kalib Boone during the second half of the Longhorns' 56-51 win Saturday at the Erwin Center.

Talk about a red-hot start. All five Texas starters opened Saturday's game at the Erwin Center with a bucket on the Longhorns’ first five possessions against Oklahoma State.

Tre Mitchell, 3. Courtney Ramey, corner 3. Timmy Allen inside, yes, sir.

Marcus Carr with a 3-pointer from the left wing, bang. Christian Bishop, dunk. It was offensive nirvana.

“They had not played up to whatever their expectations had been,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said. “Certainly, losing Tuesday put them on their heels a little bit.”

Then after that smoking hot start, Texas turned it over three straight times. Then came four straight missed shots. Two more turnovers. A jump ball turnover. The Horns went 10 minutes, 15 seconds before they scored again. Suddenly, it’s a nightmare.

If there is such a thing as a must-win second half in mid-to-late January, Texas faced it Saturday. The No. 23 Horns pulled together, showed some grit and emerged with a much-needed 56-51 victory to snap a two-game skid.

More: Texas looking for an end-of-game clutch shooter to make the big shot

It wasn’t pretty, but nobody inside Cooley Pavilion cares. For the second time in three games, Texas (14-5, 4-3 Big 12) had 20 turnovers. When you have more turnovers than made field goals (18), it’s usually disaster. Defense was critical as the Cowboys (10-8, 3-4) shot 32% in the second half. 

More:Stuck in the mud offensively, No. 14 Texas can’t maneuver its way through Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State guard Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe reaches for the ball as Texas forward Dylan Disu comes down with a rebound in the second half in Saturday's Longhorns win. Texas' next game will be at TCU on Tuesday.

“To be down at half and really go out and win the game in the last 20 minutes was a great sign, lesson and experience for our players,” Beard said.

Beard said Brock Cunningham was “the MVP of the game in a lot of ways,” even though the fan favorite from Westlake High didn’t score a single point.

More: Texas is making scoring, and life, difficult for Big 12 opponents

Cunningham and Dylan Disu changed the complexion of the game midway through the first half with sheer toughness, something that ebbs and flows with this bunch.

Cunningham had one assist — made on the biggest play of the entire day. Christian Bishop fired a bounce pass to Cunningham, who slipped behind his defender and was running down the baseline. He caught the pass, and instead of going up for a contested shot, he rifled a pass to Courtney Ramey in the corner.

Ramey’s 3-pointer with 6:45 remaining gave Texas a 44-37 lead. It not only energized the Horns, but it electrified another good crowd announced at 13,203. Fans were on their collective feet for the next few possessions as the home team never looked back.

“Brock does a great job of doing whatever is necessary to win,” Allen said. “He always just makes a Brock play, and I think everybody who knows Brock knows what that means.”

Oklahoma State guard Avery Anderson steals the ball from Texas guard Andrew Jones during the second half Saturday. The Longhorns started the game hot, then went cold and then relied on defense in the second half to win 56-51.

Cunningham and Disu had just five of Texas’ 22 rebounds in the second half. Granted, that doesn’t sound like much. But the way Disu battled under the basket, the way Cunningham was just Cunningham, it sparked a change in momentum.

When Oklahoma State got within three with 1:23 left, Texas closed the door. Mitchell banked in a 15-footer. Ramey got fouled and drilled two free throws. Then on the game’s final play, Cunningham intercepted an Oklahoma State inbound pass to seal the deal. 

Boynton was without Bryce Williams, who averages 10.6 points but was out with a sprained ankle. He scored 11 when Oklahoma State beat Texas just two weeks ago in Stillwater. 

But that didn’t appear to bother the Cowboys’ coach. This back-and-forth is just life in the Big 12. His team will keep getting better, and so will Texas, Boynton believes.

Oklahoma State guard Keylan Boone slides in an attempt to save the ball from going out of bounds during the second half of Texas' win Saturday. "They're figuring it out, and they're going to win a lot more ballgames," Cowboys coach Mike Boynton said of the Longhorns.

“They’re figuring it out, and they’re going to win a lot more ballgames,” Boynton said of Texas. “I would imagine practices haven’t been comfortable the last few days. Obviously, those kids took his message to heart and responded the right way.”

Still, there are issues that must be addressed, starting with the turnovers. 

Beard lamented last weekend how his forwards cannot turn the ball over as much as they do. Allen (four turnovers) and Bishop (three) were turning it over away from the basket at times against OSU. 

“With our turnovers, yes, it's an issue,” Beard said. “In our wins, we’re at a certain number, and our losses, it’s startling. It jumps off the paper at you.

“If there was one thing, we’d fix it,” Beard said. “If there was one play, we quit running the play. If there was one player, we’d work really hard to get that player to improve. But it’s across the board. So we just kind of keep working at it. But I can tell you this: The guys understand it.”

The players do understand, at least as Allen tells it. Texas will go back on the road with a game at TCU on Tuesday and then come home to face Tennessee next Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge — the return of former Longhorns coach Rick Barnes.

Once February starts, it will be one brutal challenge after another. Texas Tech fans are already gearing up for Feb. 1, Beard’s first game back in Lubbock. Wrestling superstar Ric Flair will be in the Hub City to get the crowd revved up that night.

Buckle up, Texas. None of this gets any easier.

“We’ve lost a couple here, and we're just trying to get back on the right step,” Allen said. “We’ve got to work on a couple of things, but we’re heading in the right direction, and our processes and practices are leading us that way.”

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