Just when Texas looked like it had grown up, it played the final ten minutes of the second half like the same team that was 1-7 in games decided by six points or less coming into Monday.
The Longhorns spent the early part of the night keeping the Frank Erwin Center on its toes by building a lead and maintaining it by making plays at the rim and hitting open jumpers. They played within their offense and ratcheted up on defense. Alexis Wangmene even looked poised to make up for a horrible single-rebound, four-foul game against Oklahoma State Saturday. Yes, Texas finally looked like it was a bit wiser, a bit stronger and a bit more demanding of each other as a team. That unraveled painfully in the second half when Baylor’s Quincy Acy began toying with Texas’ defense like the future NBA player he is, making the Longhorns’ age show.
“Acy is just a beast,” Baylor’s Perry Jones III said. “He is a leader.”
Acy dumped 22 points on the Longhorns, Wangmene fouled out, J’Covan Brown turned the ball over in the final seconds, and Texas’ bigs were embarrassed on the glass. Add it all together and Texas is now 1-8 in games decided by six points or less and that statistic is more of a scarring characteristic of this team than a numerical trend. It is a mark of the team’s youth, and it is what separated Texas from Baylor Monday night. Though Texas head coach Rick Barnes has refused to make it an excuse, Acy was perceptive enough to exploit Texas’ age.
“They are a very young team, but I saw a lot of fight in them,” Acy said.
The Longhorns played inspired defense in the first half, holding the Bears to a paltry 7-of-25 from the field, good for 28 percent. They led 36-26 at the halfway mark and the Longhorns were coasting at a cool 50 percent shooting on the floor.
“We got too comfortable at that point,” Clint Chapman said.
They went 12-of-26 from the field the rest of the way, and the team’s mentality broke down.
“Their offense had some easy looks at shots, and we weren’t getting any easy looks,” Brown said. “We weren’t getting them as a unit.”
Baylor, led by Acy and guard Pierre Jackson scraped together points that only teams wise enough to know where to find them can. Acy got rebound after rebound inside the paint, including eight offensive boards of 16 total, and was able to convert easy finishes at the rim. Jackson patiently waited for the ball to make its way to him on offense as he floated the floor, as he connected on three of six treys and ended up with 25 points.
“We had a tough home loss against K-State and we really wanted to dig deep and not give up,” Acy said. Just because we’ve lost a few games doesn’t mean the season is over.”
It’s a combination of that lesson of resilience that has been lost on Rick Barnes’ squad, and an even more difficult concept of “listening rather than hearing” down the stretch in close games that has him frustrated.
“We have had trouble listening. We come out of timeouts and don’t execute,” Barnes said. “We start the game and we don’t understand the situations.”
Barnes was noticeably frustrated as he entered the post-game press conference and was finally forced to admit something he has avoided all season: inexperience is still plaguing his team and he isn’t happy about it.
“It shouldn’t be a factor at this point in the season, but it is,” he said.
Texas will need to grow up quick, or be prepared for an invite to the kiddie-pool that is the National Invitation Tournament.