Texas’ seniors played a minimal role in the victory on a night meant to commemorate their achievements, but the junior and freshman had no problem playing heroes. Down most of the game, the two navigated Texas’ pair of comebacks in both halves to help the Longhorns pull out a victory it absolutely needed heading into their final regular season game against Kansas. But it wasn’t pretty.
Texas started off the game with as lethargic a performance as it had turned in all year. The Longhorns weren’t forced into, but rather settled for five 3 pointers in the first five minutes of the game.
“I said to [Texas players], ‘you guys have got to be kidding me,’” Texas head coach Rick Barnes said to his team. He told his players they couldn’t shoot another triple until they could move the ball inside and throughout its offense.
Texas finally hit its first 3 pointer on its sixth attempt when Sterling Gibbs knocked one down from a no-look assist courtesy of Kabongo cutting into the lead 7-14. Brown hit a fade-away jumper the next trip down the court, and just when the Longhorns seemed poised to pick up the pace, they made things harder on themselves.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma jumped out to a 23-11 lead by forcing Texas into six early turnovers and then capitalizing in transition. Romero Osby paced the Sooners with 11 of his 14 points in the first 10 minutes, and was able to have his way inside the paint.
The Longhorns ended a three-minute scoring drought with a Brown assist to Wangmene and then the next trip down the floor, Brown dished the ball underneath the basket to McClellan who converted an easy dunk. Texas continued to etch into the lead with Brown and McClellan leading the charge.
Down 27-21, Brown grabbed a defensive rebound and heaved a 70 foot pass to McClellan in the open-court, and McClellan converted the easy layup with a little over six minutes to go. Two minutes later McClellan’s stole the ball from a defender, punched the accelerator as he drove to the rim and threw down an emphatic one-handed dunk to cut the Sooner lead to four.
Texas went into halftime with a manageable 33-37 deficit, but the Longhorns that emerged from the tunnel looked just as mistake prone as the team that started the game. For the first few minutes of the half, Texas took one step forward, only to two steps backward.
“We called a time-out after four minutes [in the second half] and told them, ‘You know what? You’ve got 16 minutes that might be what define your whole year right here, right now, and if we don’t defend, I can tell the result,’” Barnes said.
The Longhorns ramped up their defense to calm Oklahoma’s scorching first-half offense, but couldn’t covert on the offensive side. They missed give-me layups and open 3s. But for all their miscues on offense, the Longhorns were still able to win the battle on the boards and force OU to take just enough bad shots to crawl back into the contest. And with eight minutes left, the predictable affair became an exciting back-and-forth, with McClellan and Brown again towing their team along.
With eight minutes remaining, McClellan knocked in a wide-open 3 pointer from the corner.
“They were setting screens with their big guys on the base line, and we gave Brown extra attention at the top at time,” said Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger. “McClellan stepped up and made big baskets at critical times.”
Brown came back down the floor, made a stutter-step dribble that threw the Oklahoma defender guarding him off balance. Brown calmly stepped back and drilled his 3, his first of the night.
“I just knew I had to come through. I was missing shots early, but wasn’t getting frustrated at all. Coach Barnes told me to keep shooting, and it was going to go in. I kept shooting it and kept getting aggressive.
The rest of the Longhorns woke up and contributed in other ways. Even though he only had a single point, Kabongo registered a game-changing, steal-turned-assist to McClellan and the Longhorns’ team defense didn’t allow an OU field goal for the last four and half minutes. Kabongo also had nine assists.
The win puts Texas on much higher ground heading into their final regular season contest against Kansas, and a win there would give Texas the padding it needs to secure an easy tournament spot, even if it will likely be lower seed.
Printed on Thursday, March 1, 2012 as: Horns hang on to defeat Sooners