Texas couldn’t overcome a slow start against the Kansas Jayhawks, and then fell victim to poor execution in the final possessions after giving the Big 12’s best team all they could handle.
The Longhorns rallied for another furious second-half comeback, their second in as many games, but J’Covan Brown’s desperate 3-point attempt in the closing seconds missed, and UT lost 69-66 to No. 7 Kansas on Saturday afternoon at the Erwin Center.
Texas lost their third straight game and had to overcome a sluggish start for the second time this week. The Longhorns didn’t begin strong against Kansas State on Wednesday night, and it was more of the same on Saturday.
This time, though, the Longhorns got a shot off at the buzzer. Against Kansas State on Wednesday, Brown and Myck Kabongo mishandled a handoff at midcourt with a chance to tie or take the lead at the end.
Texas trailed by 15 against KU but took its first lead, 59-58, with just under six minutes to play. Brown sparked UT’s late charge and nearly engineered a thrilling upset, giving Texas a four-point lead, 64-60, with 3:21 to play. The junior guard scored the final seven points but was the Longhorns’ lone source of offense down the stretch as UT (12-7, 2-4 Big 12) fell to 0-5 in games decided by six points or less.
The conference’s leading scorer pinned the loss squarely on himself.
“It starts with me,” said Brown, who made seven of 26 shots and scored a game-high 24 points. “I’ve got to finish games strong. That’s really what it is. I’ve got to be aggressive and find my teammates. In the clutch moment, I’ve got to come through.”
While Brown was quick to shoulder the blame, Texas coach Rick Barnes offered a different explanation for his team’s struggles late in games. For him, the issues go deeper than just Brown.
“We have to make it easier for each other, guys have to be in their spots and be ready because [defenses] are going to play off [Brown],” said Barnes, whose team does not have a winning record after six conference games for the first time in his 14 seasons at Texas.
Freshman swingman Sheldon McClellan agreed that Brown needs help when the game is on the line.
“We all need to step up,” McClellan said. “We need to take some pressure off of him.”
The Jayhawks, though, displayed the poise and execution in the final minutes that Barnes’ young squad is still searching for. KU regained the lead, 67-66, on a Jeff Withey layup and then sealed the victory with a pair of free throws. Kansas tightened defensively in the ultimate possessions and didn’t give the Longhorns second chances.
“We made all the plays down the stretch,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I thought Texas was more active than us but we got the key rebounds late.”
The Jayhawks (16-3, 6-0) established themselves early with a 15-0 run in the first half, turning a 7-7 tie into a sizable advantage. Texas missed 10 shots in a row during that span. But the Longhorns responded with a 16-6 run, with the help of three 3-pointers from McClellan, closing the gap to 28-25. But Texas couldn’t keep the pressure on, and KU ended on an 11-2 run for a 39-27 lead at the break.
“In the first half, the easy shots they got were because we were inept on offense,” Barnes said.
For now, it appears that the Longhorns’ offensive struggles aren’t going away.