HOUSTON — To keep their season alive, the Longhorns had their work cut out for them from the onset Wednesday night. In the end, Houston proved to be too much for Texas, winning 73-72 to knock the Longhorns out of the CBI.
“It’s a disappointment,” head coach Rick Barnes said. “You are what you are and we ended up being 16-18.”
Down one point with five seconds remaining in the game, Texas had a chance to take the lead but Julien Lewis was unable to connect on a jumper in the lane to give Texas the edge. Lewis scored a career-high 25 points but the Longhorns could not keep the Cougars from making big shots down the stretch.
Already down one scholarship player after sophomore forward Jaylen Bond announced he would transfer on Monday evening, Texas lost another player when Cameron Ridley exited the game with an upper respiratory infection just five minutes into the game against the Cougars.
With two big men out of commission the job of controlling the post fell to Prince Ibeh, a player not known for his offensive aptitude. However, Ibeh rose to the challenge and recorded career highs in points, rebounds and blocks. The freshman scored 12 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and blocked five shots.
“I knew I had to step up when Cameron went out,” Ibeh said. “I guess we assumed we were going to win and that it was just going to happen. We can’t assume that. We’ve got to make that happen. That’s what we’ve got to learn.”
Ibeh presented a challenge for the smaller Houston post players, and worked his way to the free throw line several times by clearing out space on the block and forcing the Cougars to contest any shot he took. His free throw shooting was less than stellar as he went 4-of-8 from the line, but with each successive trip to the line, Ibeh forced the Cougars deeper into foul trouble. Texas attempted just six free throws in the first half, but ended the game with 18 attempts, making 14 of those shots.
The Cougars had four players reach double-digit point totals and seemed to be in transition the entire game, scoring nine points off turnovers and 11 more on the fast break. Joseph Young was especially effective against the Longhorns’ zone defense, shooting over the top of defenders and hitting four of the five Cougars’ made three-pointers. Forward TaShawn Thomas added 15 points and 10 rebounds.
“We knew we had to get back in transition fast against these guys,” Lewis said. “They love to run and we did do a better job getting back in the second half, but we have to get better at finishing games.”
Myck Kabongo put up 17 points and dished out six assists to go along with four steals. The Longhorns’ leading scorer Sheldon McClellan got off to a slow start shooting the ball and stayed cold from behind the three point line as he missed all five of his three point attempts.
For the first time since 1997-98, the Longhorns finish their season with a losing record.
“One thing I hope our guys learn from this year is how fine a line it is between winning and losing,” Barnes said.