There wasn’t much doubt as to the outcome of Saturday night’s game versus Texas Tech as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The Longhorns led by as much as 17 in the last four minutes.
But earlier in the second half, the Red Raiders came within six points of No. 3 Texas (20-3, 8-0 Big 12) and seriously threatened the team with its first conference loss.
“They came in tonight and, I thought, showed great poise, worked hard and got themselves back in the game,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said about Tech.
Tech came out of the break trailing by 16. But the Longhorns scored just one field goal in the first seven minutes of the second period, and the Red Raiders capitalized on that scoring drought with a 10-3 run.
“We missed some shots. We may have let down mentally,” Barnes said. “I think all that credit goes to Tech.”
A free throw by Tech’s David Tairu made it 53-47 with 11:20 to play, and Knight’s team looked on the verge of gaining its first lead of the game thanks to some quick scoring and opportune three pointers.
But J’Covan Brown hit a pair of long-range shots and Gary Johnson added a jumper to snap Tech’s streak and shift the momentum back in Texas’ favor.
“The more you play this game, you start to understand that this is a game of runs,” Brown said. “Tech, they made a run and Coach called a timeout to get us to settle down, and we came out and responded real good.”
Texas is defeating league opponents by an average of 18 points. It was the first time since starting conference play that the team had to regroup and recover against a resilient opponent trying to come back. Sure, the Longhorns have had to play from behind (at Kansas on Jan. 22) and pull away from a hot-shooting underdog (at Oklahoma State on Jan. 26), but the Red Raiders were the first to come back from a big deficit and nearly topple the Big 12’s top team.
“We haven’t been in a situation like that all year,” Johnson said. “I think it was good for us tonight. Obviously, we matured through it, and we came out with a win.”
The key to breaking Tech’s streak was team defense.
“That’s what we do. Obviously, we’re a really good defensive team. Guys feed off each other,” Johnson said. “At one point, guys were just down because we’ve never been in a situation like that. It was like, ‘What do we do now?’ I think guys kind of fed off me, Dogus [Balbay] and J’Covan [on defense], and we ended up winning the game by a pretty good margin.”
Texas never trailed, but Tech’s second-half charge could still prove to be a positive learning experience for these Longhorns, who are sure to face other upstart and overlooked Big 12 teams in the second half of their conference schedule. It will also help them prepare for the exhaustive experience of the Big 12 tournament, in which they could play four games in four days.
“I don’t think we took this team for granted or anything. They were just a good team at one point during the game, and it showed,” Johnson said.
Texas can expect to see more of those good teams making runs at it. With the experience of one close call behind them, the Longhorns carry just one more advantage into their final eight league contests.