When what you are doing isn’t working, it’s time to try something new, and the Longhorns learned that Monday night.
“It’s a play we have never run before,” Texas head coach Rick Barnes said of the last play that was drawn up to give J’Covan Brown the easy layup.
With a one-point lead and a minute to play, the Aggies had their chance to stick it to the Longhorns once and for all, to get big brother off their backs and to avenge, even if to a lesser degree, the loss the Aggies (12-11, 3-8) suffered on the gridiron in November. But J’Covan Brown’s 20 points, including a go-ahead layup with 54 seconds remaining, pushed Texas (15-9, 5-6) to a 70-68 victory in front of an Aggie crowd that may never see the Longhorns again. It was only Texas’ second road win of the season.
“Coach [Barnes] called a good play,” Brown said who also added seven assists. “I got a screen from Julien [Lewis] and the big pinned down and closed the gates.”
Brown was as stunning as he was predictable. His 20 points were on par with his season average, but they came on 6-for-9 shooting from the field, including 4-for-4 from beyond the arc. Every three-pointer he shot came by staring down his opponents and then raising up for a contested jumper. But Brown wasn’t the only contributor. The Longhorns were able to spread the wealth as Sheldon McClellan and Alexis Wangmene scored in double figures. Jonathan Holmes provided a late-game spark by adding nine points of his own.
Texas played perhaps its best game and head coach Barnes was finally pleased with the signs of maturity and team-first mentality his squad exhibited.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Barnes said. “In our body language, there wasn’t any doubt. Confidence-wise, I thought we carried ourselves.”
Texas and Texas A&M fought toe-to-toe the entire game. As one team went on a run, the other would stop the bleeding and claw ahead, before being dragged back into the dogfight. Midway through the first half, the Longhorns went on a 13-2 run to push their lead 24-15. The Aggies countered with a run of their own a few minutes later, scoring seven unanswered points in the waning moments of the first half. Texas A&M led 34-33 at halftime.
Texas took back the lead early in the second half, jumping out to a 55-48 lead before the Aggies reversed the momentum on an emphatic dunk by Ray Turner. The Aggies slowly fought back to finally take a one-point lead in the last minute. But Brown’s layup and Texas’ defense, highlighted by a Myck Kabongo steal, sealed the deal. Kabongo also added six points, five assists, and six rebounds.
“I thought Myck was terrific tonight,” Barnes said. “In some ways, he maybe played as well as he’s played all year.”
Texas’ defense allowed the Aggies to shoot 50 percent from the field, but they put up 12 fewer shots than the Longhorns because Texas was able to rebound well, particularly on the offensive glass. Of their 27 rebounds, nine of them came on the Longhorns’ own side of the floor, creating opportunities for easy putbacks.
For the Aggies, there just wasn’t enough firepower. They were playing without forward Khris Middleton, who averages 12.4 points per game and guard Dash Harris, who averages a team-high 4.4 assists per game.
“They’re two big keys to our team. Dash and me and Khris have given blood sweat and tears to the team,” Aggie forward David Loubeau said. “But we have to be patient and wait for them to get back.”
Loubeau and Elston Turner, who took over at point guard with Harris gone, led the Aggies with 14 and 20 points respectively.
The Longhorns have now won two in a row while the Aggies have dropped three straight. With both these teams fighting for their NCAA tournament lives, neither team can afford to dwell on this game. But after 222 meetings, the sting from this loss is fresh.
“Yeah, we wanted to win not just for us but for the whole university,” Turner said. “It was a big game, not just for the basketball programs, but the whole school.”
McClellan, on the other hand, is just happy to pull out another one no matter who it comes against.
“Now we just have to get back in the gym and keep it up,” he said.
Printed on, February 7, 2012 as: Brown's gane-winner lifts Horns over Aggies