Texas Longhorns guard Kerwin Roach II (12) celebrates a win over against West Virginia 87-79 in the NCAA Game on Saturday, March 3, 2018. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Men's Basketball

Texas 73, Arkansas 71 (OT): Longhorns escape Fort Bliss thanks to Kerwin Roach’s stellar return

Roach's 3-pointer with 1 second left in overtime helped the Horns reset against Razorbacks in Armed Forces Classic

Posted November 9th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • Roach said life at Fort Bliss “it’s real life these people go through every day.”
  • Five Longhorns finish in double figures. Hayes, Ramey make big plays late.
  • An offensive meltdown. Texas made only five of 26 shots in the 2nd half.

FORT BLISS — Sitting out in the parking lot, there sits an M1A2 Abrams main battle tank, a 130,000-pound beast that cranks up to 42 miles per hour. It takes four crew members and the cannon looks damn effective.

Fort Bliss is known for its tanks. It’s the home of the 1st Armored Division, nicknamed “Old Ironsides.”

It seems like an odd place for the Texas and Arkansas men’s basketball teams to come and spend a few days to learn about themselves. They staged a thriller for 1,200 soldiers, family members and fans in the ESPN-created Armed Forces Classic.

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Texas senior Kerwin Roach II said players spent time in simulators shooting guns and climbed atop those tanks. It was like the video game “Call of Duty,” Roach said, “but it’s real life these people go through every day.”

“Even though we treat basketball like it’s life or death,” Roach said, “it’s really life or death for them and you just have to appreciate the mentality they have protecting our country and just going out there being ferocious on the battlefield.”

On Friday night, Roach was the one firing at Arkansas. He drilled a clutch 3-pointer with 1 second remaining to force overtime. Then, the Longhorns got a thunderous dunk from Jaxson Hayes, a runner off the glass from Courtney Ramey and one defensive stop to seal up a 73-71 win.

Last season, Texas was 8-9 in games decided in the final minute or overtime. Coach Shaka Smart hammered that stat home throughout the offseason. The situation presented itself here again in game No. 2. This time, five players finished in double figures, and there were key contributions galore.

Roach finished with a team-high 18 points as Texas (2-0) escaped despite a dreadful second-half showing. The Horns went almost 10 minutes without a bucket, a woeful stretch that Smart took the blame for.

If the Horns hadn’t made their free throws, they’d been run clear off the base and out of El Paso all together. But Texas was 21 for 30 at the stripe and shot 70 percent for the game, a figure that, yes, is an improvement over last season.

The Horns made only five of 26 shots in the second half. Life or death? The offense looked like death warmed over.

“Our guys will continue to shot the ball better from the foul line, the 3-point line, inside the 3-point line when we settle in and realize, you can’t squeeze it in,” Smart said, looking relieved afterward. “You’ve got to make the play.”

The first half featured a flurry of buckets were Texas seemingly couldn’t miss. After starting the game 0-for-5 from 3-point range, Texas went 5-for-6. Elijah Mitrou-Long, Roach, Dylan Osetkowski, Ramey and Kamaka Hepa all took turns firing away as Texas ran up 27-15 lead.

It was a six-point game at halftime, and Arkansas (0-1) finally pulled ahead when Isaiah Joe hit a long 3-pointer with 8:50 left in regulation.

By that point, Texas was melting down on the other end. It was hard to ascertain what the guards wanted and difficult to see anybody taking command. Several Horns passed on open shots, which Smart credited to “too much hesitancy.”

Arkansas couldn’t pull away, though. Mike Anderson’s team is awfully young, possibly the youngest he’s ever had in 17 seasons as a head coach. Forward Daniel Gafford is pegged as a NBA lottery pick, and he gave UT’s Jericho Sims fits all night long on both ends. Sims finished with 14 points and five rebounds before fouling out. Gafford had 20 points and 12 boards.

Still, for as bad as things looked, it all boiled down to needing one stop and making one play — something the UT football team can relate to here lately. Roach’s 3-pointer tied things up and gave the Horns new life in OT.

Roach had been suspended for the season opener for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Smart said Roach, “came back swinging for the fences, just figuratively with his whole game.”

Once in overtime, Roach started things off with a driving layup. Suddenly, the offense turned around. Roach slipped the ball to Jaxson Hayes on a terrific slip screen for a dunk. Where had that play been?

Then, Ramey made perhaps the second-biggest play of the night by driving for a floater to give Texas a 72-71 lead with 47 seconds left in the extra frame. He finished with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting in 16 minutes subbing for guard Matt Coleman III, who was plagued by foul trouble.

“I can’t lie. I was a little bit nervous,” Ramey said. “But I felt my teammates did a good job of talking to me, especially when I was on the bench in foul trouble. Andrew Jones just did a great job of keeping my head focused.”

Ramey said Coleman grabbed him and said, “You can make plays for this team. Just keep your head. Just be who you are.”

Said Smart: “He has a lot of guts. When that ball got moved to him, and he shot-faked Gafford and drove it, I felt really good about the ball being in his hands.”

Smart was all smiles afterward, and so were his players. Roach was the star attraction at center court, smiling and taking selfies with fans, some in street clothes and some in uniform. But they’ll fly home thinking about what did, or actually didn’t, happen in the second half.

“I think the biggest thing that happened was not following the plan offensively,” Smart said. “We got away from who we want to be.”

The soldiers at Fort Bliss know who they are. For these Longhorns, the journey is just beginning.

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

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