Texas season ends with another close call

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J'Covan Brown leaves the court after Texas was bounced from the NCAA Tournament with a 65-69 loss to Cincinnati on Friday. Brown scored 19 points to lead UT.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

NASHVILLE, TENN. — The Longhorns struggled all season to win close games, and that’s why Texas will watch the rest of the NCAA Tournament from home.

The Longhorns’ season ended Friday with a 65-59 loss to Cincinnati at Bridgestone Arena in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It was Texas’ (20-14) ninth loss by six points or fewer.

“We’re always going to be in close games and we have to find a way to finish,” said UT head coach Rick Barnes. “We had chances 10 or 14 times this year and we didn’t.”

The 14 defeats were the most in 14 years under Barnes. The previous high was 13 in 1998-98, his first season at Texas.

Part of UT’s inability to win tight games was its youth. The Longhorns’ rotation consisted of six freshmen out of nine scholarship players. Barnes and his rookies were rarely on the same page during the final minutes. There were defensive lapses, poor shots and miscommunication.

That was expected.

“We knew coming into this year that this would not be a one-year proposition with this team,” Barnes said. “We knew we had to try to establish a mentality. They’ve been resilient, maybe as resilient as any team we’ve had in a long time.”

The six Texas freshmen learned firsthand what it takes to win in the Big 12 and the Big Dance. That gives the Longhorns confidence heading into next season.

UT will still be young when they take the court again in November. Texas will have five freshmen, headlined by center Cameron Ridley from Fort Bend Bush in Richmond.

“I feel good with where we are as a program right now because I know what we’ve got coming back and I know what we have coming in,” Barnes said.

Texas knows it won’t have forwards Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene. The fifth-year seniors enjoyed career highs in points and rebounds.

But it’s unclear if leading scorer J’Covan Brown will return for his senior season. Brown averaged 20.1 points, 3.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 34 starts.

The leading scorer in the Big 12, Brown showed the ability to play at the next level. The NBA is there for him should he choose to leave Texas. He has a daughter that will turn 2 in July.

“I’ll make the decision, talk to coach, talk to my parents and see what the best thing is for me,” said Brown, who scored in double-figures 32 times this year. “At the end of the day, I have a family to take care of.”

Freshman point guard Myck Kabongo will also have a decision to make regarding the NBA Draft in June.

In three of the last four NBA Drafts, three Longhorn point guards were selected in the first round: D.J. Augustin (2008), Avery Bradley (2010) and Cory Joseph (2011).

The Longhorns can build around swingmen Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan. Lewis started 25 games, the most for a freshmen other than Kabongo. McClellan averaged 11.3 points, second on the team.

“Those two guys are extremely talented but they’re just learning how to play,” Barnes said. “Sheldon’s athletic ability is off the charts. I think both of those guys have a great future.”

Printed on Monday, March 19, 2012 as: Youthful team was exposed in close games, hopes growing pains will translate to wins