Jase Febres hadn’t seen a 3-point shot fall all night, but surely this one had to be it. With his team trailing Providence by only three with a minute left, the sophomore guard caught a pass in the corner without a defender in front of him — his best look of the night. And as the ball barreled toward the rim, Febres struck a pose and assumed it would fall.
The Friars took advantage and scored four points on their next two possessions to diminish any hope of a Texas rally in the final seconds.
Febres’ missed opportunity certainly wasn’t the reason Texas lost Friday night, but it provided a prime example for the Longhorns’ shooting struggles that proved insurmountable, as they shot a measly 25 percent from three and 38 percent from the floor in their 71-65 defeat to Providence on Friday night.
“They did a good job of trying to take us out of our stuff and that caused (us to be) a little stagnant on the offensive side,” guard Matt Coleman said. “At times, when we got it going, I felt it was good for us. But we got to be consistent.”
Texas’ offensive struggles persisted from the opening tip. After missing five of their first six shot attempts, the Longhorns faced an early 11-2 deficit. But the freshmen duo of forward Jaxson Hayes and guard Courtney Ramey did its best to carry them out of the rut.
Hayes and Ramey played exceptionally well off each other in the pick-and-roll game and worked a nice inside-out combination, scoring 18 of the Longhorns’ first 22 points to make it a 29-22 game with five minutes left in the first half.
“I felt like we played aggressive, just taking what the defense gave us,” Ramey said. “We were hitting shots early on and we were playing with high pace. We just took what the defense gave us.”
And despite Texas shooting just 30 percent from three and 64 percent from the free throw line, the Longhorns put together a 10-2 run at the end of the first period to keep the deficit at 39-34.
But Texas faced difficulties on the offensive end after the break when Providence shifted to a zone defense to prevent easy buckets inside. Texas missed its first four shots of the half, which allowed Providence to gather an eight-point lead.
The Longhorns, however, were able to recover with the help of Hayes and a much-needed spark from forward Royce Hamm, who provided quality minutes on both ends of the floor after not seeing significant playing time for much of the season.
But midway through the period, the Texas offense stagnated and found difficulties maneuvering against the Friar defense. Unable to convert open shot attempts and forcing bad looks around the 3-point arc, the Longhorns went six minutes without converting a field goal. When they finally did, Providence had opened up a six-point lead with just over five minutes to play.
The Longhorns finally appeared poised to mount a comeback with two minutes left. Forward Dylan Osetkowski broke an eight-minute drought without a three and guard Elijah Mitrou-Long sank a layup to cut the Providence lead to two with 2:10 left to play.
But a missed 3-pointer by Coleman and Febres’ missed 3-pointer in the corner stalled the Texas offense. After Providence broke the Longhorns’ half-court press for an easy layup following a timeout and then drilled two free throws after a Coleman turnover, the Friars secured the victory.
“There certainly will be a lot of self-reflection after this game,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “Moving into this next stretch of this season, it’s all about gaining consistency. You’re not always going to shoot the ball great from outside, but there are certain things under our control we can can be more consistent with.”
The problem with the Longhorns is the same for any other team battling inconsistent shooting: One step forward, two steps back. A promising victory against North Carolina turns into a defeat to Radford a week later. Or quality wins against Purdue and Grand Canyon are followed by what occurred with Providence.
It’s an issue that will likely continue throughout the rest of the season unless Smart can find a way to turn his players into better shooters or somehow radically change his offensive system. Both of those, however, appear unlikely.
After consecutive disappointing seasons and a promise from Smart to take a step forward this year, perhaps that’s what troubled Texas fans most as they departed the Frank Erwin Center early Friday.