Freshman steals show on senior night

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Freshman guard Sheldon McClellan (1) hoists a shot over an Oklahoma defender Wednesday night at the Frank Erwin Center.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Leave it to a freshman to salvage senior night for the Longhorns.

On an evening when Texas honored seniors Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene, rookie swingman Sheldon McClellan exploded for a career-high 24 points to keep Texas’ NCAA tournament hopes alive.

It was the final regular season home game for UT and its two seniors, but McClellan reminded everyone that Texas is still a freshman-dominated team. He sparked a decisive 12-5 run late in the second half to propel Texas past Oklahoma, 72-64, on Wednesday night.

The freshman exchanged 3-pointers with J’Covan Brown as each made two from the corner during the run that gave UT its first lead of the game. McClellan’s hot shooting helped Texas turn a five-point deficit into a 62-60 advantage with 5:40 to play.

“The momentum changed and we started to pick it up defensively,” McClellan said.

McClellan started for just the eighth time this season. He replaced an injured Julien Lewis, who sat with back discomfort. McClellan found out he would start on Tuesday, and was hesitant for the opening minutes.

A missed 3-pointer and a turnover landed him on the bench early, but McClellan regrouped to score 12 points before halftime.

“I kind of got discouraged in the first half when I was missing my shots early,” he said. “Coaches told me to keep shooting and that’s what I did.”

Whenever Oklahoma tried to pull away in the second half, McClellan seemed to deliver a timely basket.

“McClellan had a terrific night,” said OU coach Lon Kruger. “He stepped up and made some big baskets at critical times.”

The Houston native’s previous career-high was 23 points versus UT-Arlington on Dec. 6. McClellan had a streak of six games scoring in double digits stopped on Saturday at Texas Tech, but he notched his 19th game with at least 10 points Wednesday.

Chapman and Wangmene were honored before the game, along with student athletic trainer Joe Martinez. Each player received a framed jersey and was given a special introduction.

“This was their last game at home and we couldn’t let them down,” said point guard Myck Kabongo, who had nine assists and is one of six UT freshmen. “That was a big part of our run.”

Champan greeted his parents, Kenny and Jenny, as well as his brother, Alex, and sister, Kelly, at midcourt during a special ceremony before tip-off.

Wangmene was joined by his high school coach, Joe Mantenga (Blair Academy, Blairstown, N.J.). The forward fought back tears while taking pictures.

Chapman and Wangmene are each in their fifth year with the Longhorns. Chapman redshirted last season. Wangmene received a medical redshirt during the 2008-09 season because of a right knee injury.

Their senior campaigns haven’t gone anything like the previous four, though. Both evolved into starters and are logging over 21 minutes per game. Neither player had ever scored in double figures prior to this year. But both have scored at least 10 points in six games.

“Myck made a really good point about finding a way to win this game for these [seniors],” said Texas head coach Rick Barnes. “That’s the respect that they’ve earned from these younger guys.”

Printed on Thursday, March 1, 2012 as: McClellan lifts UT to victory