J’Covan Brown was practically unstoppable last weekend against Missouri. The junior guard drilled his first three shots from beyond the arc, giving him nine points before 12 minutes had been played.
Even with Brown turning one of the finest performances of his career, a 34-point outburst that saw him come within a point of his career-high, the Longhorns were blown out by the Tigers. Despite Brown dropping 23 points, including another trio of 3-pointers, on Missouri in the second half, Texas never trailed by less than five in the final 30 minutes.
But, as evidenced by the way his teammates played against Kansas State Wednesday night, Brown might not have to do everything by himself after all.
Texas insisted before last night’s game that its offense, not its defense — despite giving up 84 points to Missouri — was what needed fixing. The Longhorns lost, 84-80, despite the Wildcats missing five consecutive free throws in the final minute, but went a long way towards curing those offensive woes. A 19-2 run helped Texas trail by just one at halftime, 43-42, instead of the 13-point advantage the Tigers held over the Longhorns this past Saturday.
“We knew going in we were going to have to score 80 points to beat [Missouri],” said Texas assistant coach Chris Ogden. “Games get down to half-court offense, especially this time of year. Teams take away your transition for the most part. If they’re a good team, a tournament team, it comes down to half-court execution.”
Thanks to Brown’s teammates, who shot better than 60 percent from the floor Wednesday night, Texas was able to keep this game much closer than when it fell to the Tigers by 11. Despite winning just one game away from home this season, the Longhorns nearly pulled off an upset in Manhattan’s “Octagon of Doom,” where Missouri suffered its only loss and where Baylor nearly fell for the first time as well.
Sheldon McClellan, the most reliable scorer alongside Brown this season, scored in double figures for the 11th time during his freshman campaign. The rookie guard had 19 points while fellow freshman Myck Kabongo had 14 points and 10 assists against Kansas State. Clint Chapman played most of the second half in foul trouble but managed to pour in 11 points and hit both of his field goal attempts and each of his seven free throw attempts.
“Everybody can score on this team,” McClellan said.
Kabongo, who played his “best game by far,” according to head coach Rick Barnes, in a win over Oklahoma State Jan. 7, and Chapman have provided much-needed relief to Brown recently. Chapman, who redshirted last season, had not scored in double figures in his first 96 career contests but has scored at least 11 in three of his last five.
“I’m just now starting to get back to the speed of the game,” Chapman said. “The only new thing that I’ve added to that is being a leader, since I’m one of the few veterans on the team.”
There aren’t a lot of moral victories at a basketball program as proud as the one at Texas, but the way people around the Longhorns’ leading scorer played in the “Octagon of Doom” — one of the loudest, toughest places to play in all of college basketball — was very encouraging. It’s the type of performance that could help Texas get into the NCAA tournament for the 14th consecutive season.