NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A 14-point second-half lead, career performances by guards Matt Coleman and Kerwin Roach II and a lopsided height advantage in the paint — the 10-seeded Texas Longhorns had everything pointed in their favor in the second half of their opening March Madness game against 7-seeded Nevada.
But minute by minute, the Wolf Pack scratched, clawed and erased the Longhorns’ dreams of attaining their first tournament victory since 2014.
A dejected Texas team trotted off the court empty-handed, wondering about the what-ifs and could-haves. The season concluded to the tune of an 87-83 overtime loss to Nevada.
“In a game like today, we need to add one or two more winning plays,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “That's the difference. One more stop, one more rebound. It's a cruel, hard assessment. But in games like this that go in overtime — and we've been in as many as anyone in the country — one play does make the difference.”
Live from Nashville as Texas falls 87-83 to Nevada in the first round of March Madness https://t.co/jUB1nLPPO1— Daily Texan Sports (@texansports) March 17, 2018
Nevada’s impeccable 6-of-6 shooting in the overtime period completed the Wolf Pack’s dramatic comeback over the Longhorns in Nashville. But to even get to the overtime period, Nevada asserted its physicality in the final seconds, down 68-67.
Just 3.8 seconds away from defeat, Nevada power forward Jordan Caroline showed no fear of freshman center Mo Bamba, posting the 7-footer up and drawing a crucial foul call in the paint. Bamba, who entered halftime with zero fouls, fouled out in presumably his final collegiate game.
Caroline’s first free throw bricked off the back iron. His second, with the season on the line, sunk through the fibers of the net. The Longhorns turned the ball over on an errant inbounds pass, giving Nevada an unlikely chance to win in regulation.
Caleb Martin airballed the buzzer-beating three, but that would be the Wolf Pack’s final miss from the floor Friday evening.
“I just think that us fighting and Jordan going up and hitting the big free throw to tie it up to go into overtime gave us confidence,” Nevada small forward Caleb Martin said. “You could kind of tell when we walked back on the floor, you could tell the energy of (Texas) was low.”
Despite Bamba’s absence, overtime opened up in a favorable manner for the Longhorns. Coleman, who had a career-high 25 points, drilled a three on the first possession and Roach, who finished with a career-high 26, followed it up with his second 4-point play of the day — nailing a triple from the corner and drawing contact.
“During (overtime), I was just trying to impact, you know, rub some energy off my teammates, try and impact the game as much as possible even from the sideline,” Bamba said.
Texas led 77-73, but Nevada’s long-distance shooting caught fire at the optimal time.
“Across the board, we just got guys that have played in hostile environments,” Nevada point guard Kendall Stephens said of the chaotic start to overtime. “We've been there before so we know that all we need is a chance. We're confident. Once we get back down the court, we're able to score effectively, and that's what we did.”
The Wolf Pack converted on three Caleb Martin threes in the extended period, creating disarray in Texas’ defense. Trailing 85-80, Roach wound up connecting on an NBA range three, but the clock did not allow for enough time for Texas to charge back from the deficit.
Nevada continues dancing Sunday in the second round against Cincinnati, while Texas laments on how a nine-point halftime lead and a 14-point second-half advantage with 18:42 to go evaporated so rapidly. From the 17:59 mark until 2:26 remained in overtime, the winning team did not lead once.
“Being up nine in an NCAA tournament game, you know the other team's going to really do everything they can to make a run,” Smart said. “Obviously, at that point, (Nevada) had nothing to lose. They were behind, they were attacking and we just didn't do enough to match them.”
Texas finished its season at 19–15, still without a tournament win over a higher-seeded team since 2002. The Longhorns’ roller coaster season, which featured an NCAA-high eight overtime games, concluded in Nashville.