The Longhorns' NCAA tournament hopes are still alive thanks to a timely steal from J'Covan Brown.
Brown knocked the ball loose from Texas Tech's Javarez Willis and saved it from going out of bounds with 15 seconds left in overtime and the game tied at 67. The junior fed Julien Lewis under the hoop for a layup with a pass as he was falling out of bounds to give Texas a 69-67 lead.
Brown then converted two free throws with nine seconds remaining to seal the 71-67 win for Texas. He finished with 14 points, three assists and four steals — none bigger than the last.
It was UT's second win in a game decided by six points or less (2-8) and it ended a two game losing skid. The Longhorns (18-11) improved to 8-8 in the Big 12 and are tied with Kansas State for fifth in the conference.
Texas nearly burst its NCAA tourney bubble with a sluggish second half, though. UT squandered a 12-point lead for a second straight game and allowed the Red Raiders (8-20, 1-15 Big 12) to slowly climb back after the break.
“We don't understand momentum,” said Texas coach Rick Barnes. “We don't understand how to build on it or understand the flow of the game.”
For Brown, overtime provided some redemption for an ill-advised foul at the close of the second half that allowed Tech to prolong the game.
With Texas ahead, 59-55, with 21 seconds to play, Brown fouled Jordan Tolbert in the backcourt as soon as the Red Raiders inbounded the ball off a free throw made by Lewis. Tolbert made both free throws and Brown couldn't find an open man on the ensuing inbounds play, resulting in a turnover.
Tech then tied the game at 59 with a Willis jump shot with 16 seconds to play. Texas couldn't get a shot off and the game went into overtime.
UT overcame a six-point deficit in the extra period, though, and displayed grit that was absent in its previous close games. Playing against the conference’s worst team also helped.
“We had a six-point lead with like 2:10 to go [in overtime], and then we foul, give up a three, came out of a timeout and fouled again,” Willis said. “Basically that's just giving up the game. We knew we should have won that game.”
Texas was lost on the offensive end at times, but the defense kept the Longhorns in the game. UT forced 20 turnovers and converted them into 23 points.
“We never got a shot at the basket the last minute and 45,” said Texas Tech coach Billy Gillispie. “Four turnovers in a row when you have the lead. You can't do that to win.”
Texas started slowly and trailed, 12-3, five minutes into the game. But the Longhorns put together a 28-5 run and led, 33-22, at the half.
The Red Raiders switched their defense in the second half, with four men playing zone and one hounding Brown wherever he went. Tech took the Big 12's leading scorer out of the equation, but Brown became the facilitator and Lewis the primary scorer.
“I didn't want to force anything,” Brown said. “I knew my guy was going to stay with me, and the game turned into 4-on-4. The other guys adjusted to it.”
It wasn't pretty, but the Longhorns won a game they couldn't afford to lose.