Here’s five thoughts following Texas’ last-second, 47-46 survival against the Tennessee State Tigers thanks to Matt Coleman’s made floater with nine seconds left.
1. Andrew Jones isn’t walking through that door (for a couple of games):
So there’s no reason to play like it. Without Texas’ best midrange/creative threat, Texas needs to try and work the ball in the paint and use their five-star (who isn’t currently playing offense like a five-star) center and able power forwards to try and bring in the zone defense they will consistently face. Instead, the Longhorns passed the ball around the perimeter, and settled on shots that they continued to miss as the half went on, all while not trying to feed the ball inside. In addition to settling, there was very little movement toward the basket. While the packed-in paint has something to do with that, it’s better to force the issue than to force the shot. Smart went to the three-post lineup and it showed some effectiveness in the first half. When Smart finally went back to it in the second half with around eight minutes left, Texas was able to create its largest lead of the game. Dylan Osetkowski helped by capping off a 9-0 run with a dunk with just under four remaining. After that, Texas would not score until Coleman’s game winner. All in all, zero offensive positives in that game. The only positive was that Texas won instead of lost.
2. It’s a good thing Matt Coleman made that shot
For multiple reasons. After starting about as well as a freshman point guard could earlier in the season, Coleman has struggled and turned the ball over way too easily over the last two games, including six tonight. He balanced that with seven assists, but that’s way too much. Coleman was just 1-of-8 before his floater dropped with nine seconds left. If he didn’t make that, his confidence likely is trending way downward ahead of a stretch where Texas needs him to be as in control as possible.
3. At some point, you’re just a bad shooting team
To suggest the Longhorns don’t practice shooting in practice is asinine, and Smart has repeatedly said in media settings that they try to make those shots “as game-like as possible.” But it’s not carrying over for some reason. 2-of-13 from deep in the first half (with the only two makes coming from Kerwin Roach) is poor, and how the shots appeared aesthetically, from beginning to nothing-but-nothing end, were just as poor. The Longhorns improved their overall shooting by 10 percentage points in the second half, but were still just as terrible from three. If Matt Coleman had not hit his floater, Texas would have made just one-third of their shots on the evening (and lost).
4. The defense is still pretty solid
Despite the troubles on the offensive end, the defense still played pretty well. 17 first half turnovers by the Tigers, and only 8 made shots show how well the team defended. That said, there were some problems. Bamba still struggles against opponents that have weight on him despite his length. This may just be one of those “this is not the best version of Mo” things that Smart talks about, as there is no question the NBA will get him bigger than Texas S&C can. But less heralded players have been able to take advantage of him in the paint when he whiffs on blocks. Sims is a tougher low post presence, in my opinion. Texas did mostly what they needed to do on the defensive end, limiting a below-average opponent to just 46 points, the Tigers’ second lowest total point output all year. That defensive performance was just marred by the fact the Longhorns only put up one more point. Luckily for Texas, pressure defense forces opponents into idiotic last-second shots.
5. Time to press as much as possible
Texas is an elite defensive team. The Longhorns forced 25 turnovers tonight, and several of them were due to the press. And, they did it while playing only seven-deep. Not only does it force other teams out of their comfort zone, but it has a chance to put Texas where it is more comfortable in transition on offense. There were times when Texas let TSU’s Delano Spencer (11 points) and Christian Mekowulu (15 points) had some shots that should have been much more contested, but those were mostly in the half court. For the most part, they limited TSU’s offensive effectiveness to just those two players. Pressing forced TSU into passing it to a player out of bounds several different times, and just away in general on other occasions. Texas needs to continue to press in order to make up for their offensive woes.
Shaka Smart quotes:
On the game: Fortunately we held them to 46 points. A few things on offense; one, when we have an open shot we have to slow down. We’re almost shooting it like a hot potato. Our guys, they practice shooting a lot. They get a lot of extra shots up, but tonight the way we shot the ball, and there’s some other games we’ve been this way, it was completely different from how we practice. You’ve got to step up with poise, follow your process. That’s really a big word for us. We’ve got to make sure that the focus on process comes before the focus on results. Obviously, we won. We’re glad we won. Big shot by Matt (Coleman), but we’ve got to get back to that. The other thing on offense is we’ve got to do what we talk about doing. That’s process too, but as a team if we come out of a timeout and say we’re going to do something, we’ve got to go do it. I think one timeout we came out of, and we didn’t even get a shot up. It was a shot clock violation. We just didn’t execute. They played a different zone. It’s tough to play against. Some of the guys they didn’t even guard on our team. That can’t be an excuse. You’ve got to follow the plan
On trying to find a balance on offense: It’s tough. You want to play five on five. You don’t want to play three on five or four on five when they’re not guarding someone. At the same time, when we watch the tape I think we’ll see some of our bigs open on seals where we needed to throw the ball in there. I think when the game is going the way it was in the first half, there has to be an added emphasis on throwing it inside. We had some good passes into the interior, but then we had some we just flat out threw away, which again, is a lack of poise. For Matt, he’s been really good earlier in the year playing with poise, making good decisions, making good passes but right now he’s not in the moment with the pass and the play that he’s making. That’s why he’s got 10 turnovers in the last two games.
On if he wants to go back to the drawing board on offense: No, because we didn’t do what we practiced doing. You can come up with something different, but if you don’t do that the right way, it doesn’t matter. It’s about process. It’s about following our process, our plan. That’s in two ways. I think, one, executing what we’re trying to do, and then two, when you have a shot, when you have a drive, when you get an offensive rebound, any type of individual play that it’s time to go make, going and doing it the way that you know how to do and jumping up and shooting the ball the right way, shooting your free throws the right way. So it’s both of those things. One thing I credit our guys for is they want the right result so bad, and I think it’s an overall very unselfish group. A group that wants to do the right thing. They want to win. They want to play well, but they’ve got to remember what goes into that, the step that comes first.
On if he got on his team similar to how he did following FAMU: It’s different than whatever game that was when I said that because our guys were giving really good effort on defense and they were really trying. I thought we let them loose for a couple of threes late, but other than that, from the effort standpoint, it was a really good game. This one was more like “hey, relax and make the right play. Clear your mind.” We’ve got some guys that, for whatever reason and we talked about it in the locker room and we’ll focus on it tomorrow, playing with too much tension, too much avoidance. Got to go attack. Got to go play. I don’t know if your guys feel like they’ve got a lot to lose, but any time you play a basketball game, regardless of who it’s against, the only thing that can happen when you jump up and take the shot is you might miss. You’ve got to do what goes into trying to make it. Same thing with the pass, same thing with the free throw, and that’s something we’ve got to get back to. We were really aggressive and poised and approach-goal-oriented when we played Duke, for times when we played VCU. We’ve got to get back to that.
On if Mohamed Bamba is thinking too much rather than using his size: Yes. Tonight he wasn’t himself because he let what happened earlier in the game affect him. You could see it on his face. It wasn’t that he wasn’t trying, but his mind was not clear. You’ve got to have a clear mind to go make the right play. If a guy takes away your right shoulder, you go to your left shoulder. If it’s a double team, you pass it out. It’s about reading and reacting to what the defense does, but you’ve got to be able to wipe your mind clean to do that.
On addressing the tension as the schedule increases in difficulty: I think it’s a matter of working on it. Our guys, as a team, we’ve got to come closer together in terms of being connected around really only wanting to do one thing, which is follow our process and our plan. Understanding that possession by possession, clearly if you look at tonight’s game or any game, it’s not going to go perfect. I don’t think necessarily that gets worse, as you said. I think actually moving forward, every opponent we play is a high major opponent, is a Power 5 opponent, conference games then we have two SEC non-conference games left. Understanding they’ve got good players, they’ve got a way that they play, we’ve got to be the aggressors. We’ve got to be in attack mode to take them out, to beat them. A game like tonight, we played with some avoidance and when guys like their big guys make some of the plays they did, and we told our guys “this guy’s pretty good. He’s a good player.” That got our guys on their heels a little bit.
On timetables for Eric Davis and Andrew Jones: Eric could have gone today, but his wrist is not able to fully extend on the shot. He’ll probably be back, I would guess for the next game, hopefully if his wrist continues to improve. Andrew, I don’t have a timetable on it. Hopeful to have him back soon. It’s been a couple of weeks since he had his injury. He’s been working out. He’s been shooting. He’s been doing stuff non-contact. He’s not been cleared medically by the doctors, so we can’t put him out there until the doctor says “hey, his hand looks good. His wrist looks good. He can play.”
On why the team is making things more difficult as opposed to in Portland: It’s the same guys. I think what may be different a little bit is what causes a lack of poise. Matt played with so much poise early in the year, and he’s capable of that. It’s not like these last couple of games, where he had 10 turnovers, it’s not like he’s playing against guys that are way, way better than what he saw in Portland. Let’s be honest, what happens when you get to this point in the season or you get some games under you belt is there’s always a tendency or a thought process on the part of players or even teams to say “we want to do more. We want to do better. I want to do more. I want to do better. I want my results to be even more.” That might be subconscious or it might be right there. There’s a lot of noise. There’s a lot of stuff that guys hear. I think these guys really have good intentions, but they’re going to need to understand you’ve got to be a big boy when you’re playing college basketball. You’re going to have to go out and make the right play. If you’ve got an open shot, you’ve got to step into it and shoot it the same way we shoot thousands of shots upstairs in Cooley. That’s something that we’re going to have to figure out a way to get better at, because I think that’s the biggest thing that’s changed. Is it a trend or a pattern? We’ll see. The last couple of games for Matt specifically, he’s been really, really tight. Tonight was Mo’s worst game. To be honest with you, when you’re not playing Andrew and Eric, and if those two are really, really struggling, that goes a long way to as a team not being as good as you want to be.
On the defensive performance tonight: They did a great job on defense. Like I said, they got loose for a couple of threes and the one other, if I’m finding things that we need to do better, the one other thing we need to do better is guard they’re big kid. He had 15 points. Forcing 25 turnovers, being aggressive in the press, getting some steals, getting some deflections, getting their hand on the ball. Until late, doing a really good job on Spencer, their leading scorer, that’s what won us the game. I told the guys in the locker room “we’d love to win 100-50. We’d love to put all kinds of points on the board, but when it comes down to finding a way to win, sometimes you’ve really got to dig in defensively and really bear down.” Obviously, we’re going to have to fix and improve on some of the stuff offensively because what it does, the margin for error on defense is so small.
On trying to calm his team down offensively and getting the ball inside early in the game: I thought most of those, obviously I’ll go back and watch the tape, but most of those in that stretch were pretty good in terms of being open. Now, if you’re not making shots then you really want to emphasize throwing it in, but I’m telling you, when we go back and look at the tape, they literally were not guarding some of those guys on the perimeter. Then it becomes I’m a division one basketball player. I’ve made this shot a lot of times before. I need to step into it and shoot it with poise. You’re talking about Dylan. You’re talking about Jase (Febres). You’re talking about (Jacob Young). You’re talking about Matt. Shooting it the right way. I thought some of those shots were like hot potato shots that didn’t need to be. It’s not like the contest was there. We’ve got to relax and settle in and shoot it the exact way we work on it.
On if the fix is getting guys to execute or adding wrinkles: Not really on a night like tonight. You can run whatever you want, but if they’re packing it into the paint, you’re going to get an open three. I do think we could have fed the post some more. Once we got the ball moved, when we did that, that was good. We always want to emphasize that. Like I said, there’s two components of process on offense. There’s the execution team-wise of what you’re trying to do, the screening angles, using it the right way, making the extra pass. Then there’s just making the individual play the right way, whether it’s a shot, whether it’s a pass, whatever play it is that’s going to lead to you scoring at the very end of the possession. Having the poise to do that the right way. That’s what we’ve got to spend a lot of time working on. We have, but obviously we’ve got to do a better job carrying it over.
On why things aren’t working from the player’s point of view: From their standpoint, I think if they were honest they would tell you that they’re not really playing with a loose, aggressive nature. I think there’s some tension there. Again, their intentions are really good. They want the result to be what we all want it to be. They just have to understand the part of it that they control, that’s where their emphasis needs to be.
On if the biggest issue is trying to figure out what’s in their heads: Just trying to clear their minds and get them playing with a level of aggressiveness, and just being loose out there and attacking.
On the three big lineup and if the press helped that lineup: It did. What happens is when we got a steal or a turnover or even a missed shot, it’s like “we’ve got to go score in transition because it’s not going great in the half-court.” Well, we do. We want to go attack in transition, but we don’t want to be frantic there, either. You want to make the right play and make the poise play. The three big lineup, I didn’t think was bad. Dylan is so valuable because you can just insert him right in and he does a good job playing a position he doesn’t practice very much and doesn’t have a lot of experience playing. Mo and Jericho (Sims), wasn’t their best game but I thought that lineup was as good as when we were playing three guards. What it gave us a chance to do was offensive rebound a little bit more.