TULSA, Okla. — J’Covan Brown couldn’t shake the hands of Arizona players after the game as he lay prostrate on the floor of the BOK Center. He wouldn’t look his teammates in the eyes — jersey pulled over his head — as he walked off the court.
Brown missed the final shot for the Longhorns on Sunday, a potential game-winner against Arizona in the third round of the NCAA tournament, but without him they would never have gotten that close.
He scored the lion’s share of the points in his team’s comeback attempt, accounting for 21 of the last 28, and almost shot Texas into the Sweet 16 with a 23-point, three-assist performance.
“I think J’Covan put us in a situation that we wouldn’t have been in if he weren’t in the game,” said Texas senior Gary Johnson. “He was a key to this run.”
After settling for mostly three-point attempts in the first half, Brown chose a more direct route to the basket in the second. During one 90-second stretch, he drove the ball through the lane on three-straight Texas possessions, drawing two fouls and ultimately creating six points.
“He made the shots down the stretch,” said Jordan Hamilton, the Longhorns’ leading scorer. “He got fouled and he knocked down his free throws.”
Brown mixed his driving layups with unorthodox fadeaways and pull-up jumpers. He was the most effective player for Texas, oftentimes creating his own offense from the top of the key as Hamilton went 7-of-18 from the floor for 18 points.
“I just thought about the seniors that we have on our team,” Brown said. “I just tried to give my all to them. I just tried to be aggressive.”
Even more importantly, he drew plenty of contact, personally putting at least two Arizona players — Kyryl Natyazhko and Jesse Perry — into foul trouble. Brown was perfect from the line, making 13-of-13 free throws.
“He’s a heck of an offensive player,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller. “Texas did a good job of putting him in position to use a lot of ball screens, we didn’t have an answer for him.”
An accurate encapsulation of Brown’s second half came with 4:28 to play and the Longhorns down five. He collected a defensive rebound, drove the length of the court, split the ball left and then hit a jumper over Arizona’s Brendon Lavender as he flew towards the baseline. His free throw afterwards cut the lead to two.
And with the game on the line, Brown was trusted with the ball and the final shot. Arizona’s Derrick Williams scored a layup on a backside cut and then sunk a free throw, giving his team a one-point lead with less than 10 seconds remaining. Brown received the inbounds pass, dribbled to half court, then crossed over to his right and drove hard. Leaning into his defender, he got off a high floater but the ball fell short and Johnson was unable to convert a second-chance basket before the buzzer sounded.
“I just tried to get to the rim,” Brown said. “Things happen.”