The Texas Longhorns and the Kansas Jayhawks played even for the first half Friday, with the Jayhawks entering halftime with a 37-34 lead. Longhorn freshman Mohamed Bamba and Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham each put in stellar first half performances, with Bamba scoring 16 and blocking 5 shots and Graham scoring 12 on 4-of-8 from three. Then, Kansas shot the lights out at the Erwin Center.
Kansas hit 17 of its 35 threes and were 11 of 20 in the second half to keep the Longhorns at bay. Texas cut what became a double digit lead to four late in the second, but could never get any closer than that. Kansas’ Graham, Lagerald Vick, and Svi Mykhailiuk all were better than 50 percent from deep and all tallied more than 20 points as they closed out the Longhorns in a packed Erwin Center, 92-86.
“They had probably one of the best three point exhibitions, if you want to call it that, that I’ve ever seen in my life,” Bamba said. “They caught fire, and it’s kind of hard to defend even when you’ve got a hand up and close out as hard as you do.”
No matter what the Longhorns tried — man, zone, or tough closeouts — the Jayhawks consistently made their shots. Guards and even the 6-foot-9 junior Dylan Osetkowski would close out shooters, but Mykhailiuk and Graham continued to hit from deep, deflating the Longhorns’ best efforts to complete a comeback. Kansas scored an incredible 1.447 points per possession in the second half, 0.266 more than its season average.
“They tested us,” freshman guard Matt Coleman said. “They got a few open looks and knocked down a couple with hands in the face. They had it going. I give them a lot of credit, a lot of respect. They shot the ball very well, making 17 threes.”
The Longhorns trailed by 10 for much of the first part of the second half, but Texas, led by Bamba’s eight blocks, slowly chipped away at the Jayhawk lead. Texas shot an equally respectable 43 percent from the field in the game, but struggled from behind the arc making just seven of its 25 three-point attempts.
“I do think Kansas deserves a lot of credit for the shots they knocked down,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “When three guys hit 16 threes, you’ve got to really take your hat off to them. We’ve defended really, really well on the perimeter all year, and we were not as good defending out there.”
Texas got the lead down to five with 7:25 remaining, but Kansas quickly hit two three-pointers, a free throw, and added a dunk to stretch the lead to 12. Smart was animated following the sequence, and the officials issued him a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct. Smart declined to say much on the tech, but did say he was told by referee John Higgins “just that I deserved it.”
After being down by as much as 14, Texas crept back into the game after the Jayhawks made their last field goal with 3:00 left in the game. Texas got the Jayhawk lead down to eight with a minute remaining. Despite being in the bonus and with no players except for Bamba in foul trouble, Smart chose not to foul the Jayhawks. The clock ran, but Kansas did not score, and Coleman raced down the floor to lay it in with 22 seconds, cutting the lead to four.
Texas was forced to foul but Kansas continued to shoot well at the line, sinking all six free throws taken within the last 22 seconds. Coleman scored with one second left to cut it to six, but it was too little, too late.
Bamba followed a monster first half with an equally strong second half, finishing the evening with 22 points and 15 rebounds. His eight blocks was a freshman record and one off of the school record held by Cameron Ridley. Kansas head coach Bill Self began his post-game press conference with the comment “when a guy could have blocked the sun…” Bamba took that as a compliment.
“I’m glad he felt that way,” Bamba said “That meant my presence was definitely felt out there. I guess it was a good effort but it really wasn’t enough.”
His head coach echoed the sentiment.
“I thought he played really well,” Smart said. “We ask him to do so much. I thought his defense in the first half around the basket was terrific. In the second half he got a little tired defending (Udoka) Azubuike, who’s a really good player. He blocked shots all night long. He rebounded all night long. He got offensive rebounds. I think he’s making progress.”
After a dismal first half, Osetkowski responded with 15 second half points to go with his 8 boards.
“I thought he was a little bit hesitant early on,” Smart said. “He was much better in the second half. We got down, and he just got back into attack mode. We want him playing with reckless abandon.”
Coleman added 17 points, junior Kerwin Roach added 13, and junior Eric Davis added 12.
Sophomore Andrew Jones, in his first game action since injuring his wrist against VCU, scored five in nine minutes of play. Smart said Jones didn’t have his previous level of conditioning, adding he was under the weather recently, but still liked what he saw in his return.
“I thought when he went in there he did some good things,” Smart said. “Hopefully he can continue to do more in practice, and next time out hopefully his minutes can go way up, because we need him.”
Texas now heads to Ames, IA to take on the Cyclones in Hilton Coliseum on New Year’s Day. The team’s New Year’s Eve plans?
“Be inside for one thing, and then come together around finding a way to win the next day,” Smart said. “That’s really the simple answer. You go up there, and it’s a hard place to play. Our program I don’t think has won there since 2010. We have to focus on ourselves and the things that go into winning.”