The single-best individual offensive performance of the season and the long-awaited return of freshman forward Mo Bamba wasn’t enough.
An abysmal start proved too much to overcome against No. 2-seeded Texas Tech, as the Longhorns fell 73-69 in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday night in Kansas City.
Sophomore guard Jacob Young single-handedly kept Texas afloat in the second half, pouring in a career-high 29 points — including 12 straight on a dazzling array of threes.
“It felt just like practice,” Young said. “I just got in my zone and I never got out of it. I just told myself, ‘I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, not going to change anything.’”
Reminiscent of the evening prior, Texas dug itself an early hole. With Bamba beginning on the bench, the same lack of energy that has concerned Texas head coach Shaka Smart all season reared its head in the opening minutes of the second round.
After starting 0-9 from deep against Iowa State on Wednesday night, Texas opened the game against the Red Raiders 0-9 from the floor, including six
It wasn’t until 14:41 left in the first half that junior guard Kerwin Roach II ended the drought, scoring a layup in the lane for Texas’ first points of the game. By then Texas Tech had built a nine-point advantage.
Minutes later, Bamba entered the game for the first time with the Longhorns down 12.
The impact was immediate.
The forward muscled into the paint for an offensive rebound and rolled it in for an easy layup. On the other end, Bamba’s long frame suffocated a slashing Texas Tech guard, and UT freshman guard Matt Coleman came away with a strip and layup in transition.
With timing winding down Bamba connected a long three, and Texas entered the locker room down seven.
“Would have loved to have (Bamba) for 29 or 30 minutes,” Smart said. “But the sports med department at UT does a great job, and they decided that the best thing for him right now is to come in and play the minutes that he played.”
With Bamba mostly sidelined, the second half proved to be the single greatest stretch by any Longhorn player this season.
With 15 minutes left, Roach and Coleman had three fouls apiece, and Texas trailed by 11.
Then Young took over.
The guard hit a huge stepback three as the shot clock expired to cut the deficit to nine. On the next possession, Young was fouled making another three for a four-point opportunity.
Young scored or assisted on 14 straight points for Texas, later finding Coleman under the rim to bring Texas as close as it had been since the opening minute.
“My teammates are pushing me up to help me be who I am,” Young said. “And do what I do. That’s what they know me for — making shots — and being a fighter. That is basically it. I can’t do it without my teammates.”
But as much as Young carried the load offensively, the Longhorns couldn’t find a stop on the other end. After getting lit up from deep through the opening 20 minutes, Texas began going over screens and over-committing to closing out the deep ball.
The Red Raiders shot 55 percent from the floor in the second half. A majority of the shots came around the rim as Texas ran the guards off the line.
Every bucket on one end was matched on the other.
With the loss, the Longhorns were eliminated from the Big 12 Tournament. Texas must now wait and see if it makes the NCAA Tournament.
“We left a lot on the table,” Coleman said. “Coming into Kansas City, it was a tournament that we thought we could win. So I feel like we came up short.”