After a two-week absence, Texas returned home, bruised and scarred from its previous battles. The Longhorns, situated on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament bracket, suffered two consecutive road heartbreakers by a combined three points.
With increasing desperation and the arrival of March, Saturday’s contest couldn’t have started any worse for the Longhorns. Iowa State established a 16-7 stranglehold less than eight minutes after tipoff. But response in the face of adversity is key, and Texas retaliated by unleashing an unforeseen level of energy that sustained through the final buzzer, lifting Texas (16–13, 8–8 Big 12) to an 86-69 victory over Iowa State (20–9, 9–7 Big 12).
“Sometimes when you put a ton into a game and you feel like you’re gonna get it and don’t get it, that can be a gut punch that can affect you the next game,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “At the very beginning of today’s game, you could see a little bit of residue (from Wednesday’s Baylor loss). We got in that first huddle and said, ‘We have to have a level of juice and energy out there.’”
Spectacular basketball by Smart’s team was on full display to end the first half. Defensively, the Longhorns held firm, preventing Iowa State from recording a single field goal for 8:22 of game time. Texas was effective in closing out Cyclone shooters, stifling the visitors to a dreary 1-of-7 from 3-point range in the first half.
“After the first eight minutes, we got stagnant, gave up too much dribble penetration and lost shooting guard (Jase) Febres a bunch,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said.
During Iowa State’s period of struggle, Texas thrived on all ends of the floor. Sparked by shooting guards Elijah Mitrou-Long and Jase Febres, the Longhorns spurred a 15-3 run to close the half. Entering halftime, Texas led Iowa State, 38-26, a far cry from the nine-point deficit in the opening minutes.
“He’s our spirit leader,” Smart said of Mitrou-Long, whose hustle ushered in the prolific sequence. “When he’s in the right place in terms of his spirit and his energy, he, more than anyone on our team, rubs off on other guys. He’s brought a level of spirit that’s changed the makeup of our team.”
From beyond the arc, Febres showed near-immaculacy. In a bizarre performance from long range, the sophomore led the team with 26 points, with 24 of those from 3-pointers. He connected on 8-of-10 triples, giving him 49 points on 15-of-24 3-point shooting in his last two games. Febres attained a career-high in scoring, continuing a breakout stretch with usual starting shooting guard Kerwin Roach II sidelined with an undisclosed violation of team rules.
“I had a lot of open looks I had to knock down,” Febres said. “Since we don’t have Snoop on the floor as much, we all have to step up, all of us as players. That just goes back to my teammates and coaches having confidence in me to let the ball fly.”
Less than 72 hours after squandering a 19-point lead in 15 minutes at Baylor, Texas constructed a 21-point lead just before the 15-minute mark. This time, Smart ensured his team stay in attack mode to preserve the progress it made. Iowa State never approached striking distance in the second half, trailing by double-digits for the final 22:05.
“We found ourselves in a situation today where we were up by a good amount of points,” Mitrou-Long said. “If at Baylor, we didn’t go through that experience, it would get us in the long run. Experience is the best teacher. That’s what happened today. Today, seeing we were up and they got a little run going on, we put stops and stops together and we pulled it out.”