NEW ORLEANS — The Big Easy has been everything but for Texas.
Frustrating, disappointing and heartbreaking, yes, but definitely not easy. In its final game of the season, Texas lost 81-80 in an overtime thriller in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Wake Forest in the New Orleans sub-regional. The loss was Texas’ third in a row in the Crescent City — a fact that is not lost on former Longhorn and current Philadelphia guard Royal Ivey.
“Texas is done 0-3 in [New Orleans],” Ivey said after the loss via his Twitter account.
Ivey would know, given that he was part of the last Texas team to play and lose in New Orleans. He was a starter on the Horns’ last Final Four team — a team that lost to eventual national champions Syracuse in 2003.
In that game, Texas was dismantled singlehandedly by then-freshman Carmelo Anthony, who put up a game-high 33 points in 37 minutes. Anthony would go on to win the Most Outstanding Player Award after his double-double effort in Syracuse’s national championship win over Kansas.
Two seasons before that, Texas lost its first-round game to 11-seed Temple in a 79-65 game that also happened to be in New Orleans.
Then there was this year, with Texas’ third trip to New Orleans in 10 years and its first loss in the first round since 2005. But Thursday’s loss wasn’t because of an eventual NBA All-Star like Anthony, and it didn’t come at the hands of a Cinderella en route to a shocking Elite Eight appearance.
In the eyes of coach Rick Barnes, this loss was because of rebounds, which were anything but easy to come by.
“There were two things coming in that we wanted to accomplish: One was transition defense, and the other was rebounding the ball. And we didn’t do a great job of either one of those throughout the entire night.”
Wake Forest’s head coach, Dino Gaudio, also had a similar approach to the game.
“Before the game they said, ‘What are the three keys to the game?’ I said, ‘Rebounding, rebounding and rebounding,’” Gaudio said.
That’s exactly what the Demon Deacons did, beating Texas on the boards 59-34.
Most notably absent in the first half in the rebounds column was Damion James, who had yet to record a rebound and only finished with six total, well below his season average of nearly 10 boards.
But it was the absence of boards in the overtime period that killed the Horns’ chances, when they were outrebounded 7-2. Part of that poor showing with rebounds was because of Barnes’ defensive strategy.
“At the end when we were trying to double-team the ball, they kicked out and we had to scramble out,” Barnes said.
In the end, for whatever reason, both rebounds and wins have been anything but easy for Texas in the Big Easy.