PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Shaka Smart raised both his hands in the air then shuffled down the court. He wanted his team to take notice of Texas A&M guard DJ Hogg, who stood in the corner completely unguarded.
Texas had spent the better part of the previous eight minutes shaving a 10-point deficit down to one. Demarcus Holland’s dunk had capped a 22-11 UT run.
But Hogg didn’t get noticed and Smart’s cries to cover him were sullied as his 3-pointer swished through. It was sandwiched by another 3-pointer from Danuel House before and then another floater in the lane from House after. The one-point deficit was now seven.
“We didn’t get stops,” Smart said after the game. “We cut the lead to two a couple times, three. We just didn’t get stops that we needed the most.”
A slow start was too hard for the Longhorns to overcome. After falling down early, no comeback attempt was great enough for UT (1-2) to ever take the lead in a 84-73 loss to Texas A&M (5-0) in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis on Wednesday at Imperial Arena. Throughout the second half, the Aggies would see its lead sliced only to have a big 3-pointer or timely free-throws sustain it.
The Longhorns will now play Washington at 6 p.m. Thursday, a team it lost in the season’s opening game on Nov. 13.
Smart was displeased with his defense. He said the Longhorns had to get better in every aspect of the press. He liked what he saw from freshman Eric Davis Jr, who had 19 points, but only on the offensive side of the ball.
“We’re going to have to understand,” Smart said, “until you take a higher level of pride in that end, teams are going to do what Texas A&M did tonight.”
Texas continued to chip away in the second half. With the Longhorns on a 9-0 run, and a two-point deficit within its grasp and 12 minutes to play, Cameron Ridley was called for an offensive 3-second call. The whistle was blown as Holland hit a meaningless 3-pointer on the dead ball.
With five minutes left, UT’s Prince Ibeh missed a free throw that hit halfway up the backboard. Texas was called for a lane violation before he even got the next free throw off. Texas A&M scored on the other end to extend the lead back to 10. Taylor then came down, got his feet set on a 3 from the wing. It didn’t even touch the rim.
“They’re a good team,” Aggies guard Anthony Collins said. “Everyone in this tournament is a good team. We stayed calm, cool and collected when they went on their runs.”
There were no more comebacks or close calls for Texas to make. For every comeback UT had in it, the Aggies a response. Both coaches said it was tough to get in a rhythm with a combined 56 fouls and 74 free throws.
Smart was sullen and point-blank in his press conference. He had crouched down to knee level on the sideline, clapping his hands hard when things were rolling. He would go out to high-five players when his team went into timeouts with momentum. But after the game, he clearly imparted to his team the reality of what it needed to do better.
“It’s a little difficult,” Davis Jr. said. “Coach said we need to keep grinding. Keep getting better as a team.
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