Men's Basketball

Texas 74, Oklahoma State 69: Davis, Taylor calmly ice nail-biting win

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Story highlights
  • Texas starts off well but finishes the game going 7 for 31 from 3-point range.
  • Up next: Major road tests against No. 11 West Virginia, No. 1 Kansas.
  • Freshmen All-American Jefferson, Williams, Vahe honored during first half with football recruits in stands.

Posted January 16th, 2016

Investors prefer stability over chaos. The same rules that apply in your 401k work in college athletics, too.

The sizable crowd that showed up at the Erwin Center on Saturday wants to believe the Texas men’s basketball team has found its footing. The football recruits sitting in sections 42 and 43 could solidify another program on campus, but that’s another story.

Shaka Smart’s team got within a whisker of blowing a 23-point, second-half lead against Oklahoma State. But Eric Davis’ terrific left-handed layup and four straight Isaiah Taylor free throws in the final 13 seconds iced a 74-69 win.

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“If we do that on the road, it may be a different story,” UT’s Connor Lammert said. “But we were fortunate tonight.”

Early on, it looked like a blowout was in the offing, one of those games that Oklahoma State fans will use to send coach Travis Ford packing. But Tavarius Shine scored all 14 of his points after the break as the Cowboys (9-8, 1-4 Big 12) clawed back into it.

“We had really good aggressiveness for much of the game there, and then we hit a stretch of hesitancy,” Smart said. “We’re playing Oklahoma State. They’re a Big 12 team. You can’t put it in cruise control.”

Texas guard Javan Felix, right, tries to steal a loss ball away from Oklahoma State's Chris Olivier during the first half Saturday at the Erwin Center. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas guard Javan Felix, right, tries to steal a loss ball away from Oklahoma State’s Chris Olivier during the first half Saturday at the Erwin Center. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Smart said he told the players that great teams, or teams that want to be great, “make a decision that no matter what the scoreboard says, we’re going after these guys.”

Texas did itself no favors by going cold down the stretch. The Horns went 2 for 16 from 3-point range in the second half and 7 for 31 overall. Oddly enough, a huge majority of those shots were solid, clean looks. They just didn’t go down like last Tuesday against Iowa State. Javan Felix was 0 for 7 in that department. Lammert was 1 for 6.

“I can speak for myself and Javan that we’re very confident in our shots and those are going to fall,” Lammert said.

Despite the close call, Texas (11-6, 3-2) should feel much better about life without injured center Cam Ridley. But the upcoming week provides a real test. On Wednesday, UT travels to face No. 11 West Virginia. Then next Saturday, it’s off to The Phog for a date with No. 1 Kansas.

Funny thing about those rankings, which are updated every Monday. Those same Jayhawks lost to the Mountaineers last Tuesday in Morgantown. Any team in this league is beatable. Two wins — or at least two solid efforts — would signal its time to double down on an emotional investment in Smart’s Horns.

“I’m excited,” Taylor said. “I’m really excited to go to West Virginia and Kansas.”

Arguably the best facet of Saturday’s game was how the Horns pulled themselves out of a bad start. Texas opened the game going 1 for 7 from the floor. That lone bucket was Taylor’s 17-footer that made it 2-0.

Felix and Kendal Yancy took turns missing 3-pointers, Felix missed another and then Davis subbed in and missed one as well. But instead of panic, there was calm. Lammert drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key, making it a 7-4 game, and the Horns were off and running.

OSU freshman Jawun Evans, who blitzed Oklahoma for 42 points, didn’t even take his first shot until almost seven minutes clicked off. Leyton Hammonds got a bunch of his team-high 18 points inside, which the Horns were eager to allow.

But Davis’ two 3-pointers late in the first half were helpful, and Roach found Lammert streaking to the hole just before the buzzer for a nifty reverse layup. Texas took a 40-25 lead into halftime.

“I don’t think our team played with much emotion and tried to tread water in the first half,” OSU coach Travis Ford said.

Texas went up 51-28 on Roach’s two free throws with 15:16 remaining. About seven minutes later, it was a 10-point game. Then seven, five and finally three with 2:47 left after Anthony Allen’s layup.

But Davis’ late bucket gave Texas a 68-62 lead with 40 seconds left. Taylor kept getting fouled. Last season, he had trouble with late free throw shooting situations. Not this time. “I’m a confident dude,” Taylor said.

Confidence in the Horns is growing as well.

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