As the Longhorns headed to the locker room Tuesday night, Shaka Smart was enveloped in frustration. On the stat sheet, his team had fallen just short on the road in a conference game where it’s always difficult to come away with a win.
But the reality was his team had come out uninspired from the start against Oklahoma State, putting together one of its worst first halves of the season. And on a night where the Cowboys caught fire from the field and opened up a 19-point lead near the end of the first half, a late second-half charge from the Longhorns proved not to be enough as Texas fell 61-58 to the Cowboys.
“We've talked about for three days how dangerous they are, how hungry they are, how hard they were going to play and really emphasized the fact that we need to be the best version of us regardless of who we're playing,” Smart said. “Obviously in the first half we were nowhere near that. We dug ourselves into a huge hole. Our guys fought and battled to make it a lot closer of a game, but you can't dig yourself a hole on the road in conference play and expect to win."
The opening minutes were a disastrous start for the Longhorns. After another slow start from Texas on the offensive end that featured only eight points through the game’s first ten minutes, Oklahoma State managed to find holes in the Longhorn defense, especially behind the 3-point arc.
The Cowboys shot 55 percent from behind the arc in the first period, led by Lindy Waters III’s four threes in the first period. Along with its effort from outside, Oklahoma State was also able to find a couple easy buckets in transition against the Texas defense. And with Texas shooting a dreadful 37 percent from the field, including zero made 3-pointers, the Cowboys took control of the game heading into intermission.
According to the Texas players, it was their lack of energy from the start and inability to make shots that contributed to their woeful play.
"We just came out slow. When things got tough we just really folded up and cowered up,” guard Kerwin Roach II said. “We didn't really respond well. We came into a hostile environment and things weren't going our way, shots included. So, we just had to turn it up on defense which we didn't do the first half."
Coming out of the break, however, Texas was able to shore up its defensive effort. By mixing in some zone defense and contesting more shots outside, the Longhorns held Oklahoma State to just 23 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from behind the arc.
At the other end of the floor, the Longhorns were finally able to break through with some shots from deep. Three-pointers from Roach and guard Jase Febres cut the Oklahoma State lead to just eight points with under seven minutes to play. A dunk and free throw from forward Jaxson Hayes made it a six-point game just moments later. But Oklahoma State fought back with timely buckets of its own down the stretch, as Waters responded with another three to open up a nine-point lead just a minute later.
Down the stretch, the guard tandem of Roach and Matt Coleman did its best to will the Longhorns back. Coleman and Roach scored or assisted on the team’s final 11 points and had Texas trailing by only one point with 11 seconds to play. Oklahoma State’s Isaac Likekele, however, made two free throws after an intentional foul which extinguished the hopes of a Texas comeback.
Next, the Longhorns will return home on Saturday to take on one of its strongest opponents this season, No. 8 Texas Tech. And after a disastrous start Tuesday, Shaka’s Longhorns now turn to a more pressing problem — maintaining focus for all 40 minutes. Because any slipup against a team like the Red Raiders will likely lead to another disappointing result.
“I think we really have to take a look at ourselves and ask ourselves, 'Are we coming in looking for a fight?’” forward Dylan Osetkowski said. “I think when we don't do that we put ourselves in a tough position to win. And like I say every single time I come up here and say to you guys after every game, it's a dog fight. … We just have to continue to hash some stuff out at practice and get better."