The 2009-2010 season is over for the Texas Longhorns, coming to an end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament following an 81-80 loss to 9th-seeded Wake Forest. Perhaps it was an appropriate end, encapsulating the disappointment this season represents, with the Horns going from No. 1 in the nation to a first round exit.
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...But the game did have something the rest of Texas' season didn't have: a comeback, even though that comeback ultimately fell short in overtime.
Despite taking a halftime lead the Longhorns trailed 50-40 with 15:00 minutes to go in the second half. Over the first five minutes of the second half the Horns had fallen victim to a 13-2 Wake Forest run and it looked like Texas was going to suffer another late-game collapse, matching the Longhorns' late-season collapse.
Shot-by-shot, bucket-by-bucket, the Longhorns slowly crawled back, tying the game up at 67 with less than a minute to go on a three-pointer from J'Covan Brown. It set up for each team needing just one shot to end the other's season.
Neither would make that shot, with each instead making one free throw to tie the game up at 68 and send it to overtime. Texas' one free throw came from Damion James with just nine seconds to go. James' miss was his only missed free throw of the game (7-of-8), but making just one when two would have won the game seems to line up with the struggles of a team that was 12th in the Big 12 in free throw percentage (63.3 percent).
Texas continued the upward path it had taken for most of the second half, keeping the Demon Deacons from scoring a point for the first two minutes of overtime and jumping out to a 76-68 lead. It appeared the missed free throw at the end of regulation wouldn't matter, given that overtime was well in hand. But Wake Forest center Tony Woods ignited his team with a pair of dunks and the Texas lead was narrowed down to a single point on Ari Stewart's clutch three-pointer. That three-ball by the Wake Forest forward came with just 19 seconds to go, meaning the Deacons would have to send Texas to the line and hope the Longhorns missed one.
Gary Johnson missed both.
A two-point bucket was all the Demon Deacons needed to win and they got it from Ishmael Smith. Smith, the Wake Forest guard who was on the floor for a game-high 44 minutes, drove down the court, went just right of the key and with one second left lobbed in the jumper that would end Texas' season.
Smith spend essentially the entire game on the floor and was one of four Deacons in double digits, finishing with 19 points. Right behind him in minutes was guard L.D. Williams, who was out there for 43. In fact, not a single guard came off the bench for Wake Forrest, as the Deacons ran a rotation of eight and only subbed at forward and center. The leading scorer for Wake was forward Al-Farouq Aminu, who had 20 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
For Texas, it was all about the freshmen; more than half the Longhorns' points were scored by first-year players. Leading the way was point guard J'Covan Brown with 20 points. Brown also had just a single turnover and turnovers were a surprising bright spot for the Horns in the loss. TOs had been a major issue for the Longhorns this season, but Texas had just five total turnovers Thursday night compared with a brutal 20 for Wake Forest. But the Longhorns couldn't take advantage, with the Demon Deacons shooting better (42.9 percent to 37.7) and giving themselves more opportunities thanks to a significant lead in rebounding (59 to 39), including double the number of offensive rebounds (20-10). The advantage on the boards is why Wake Forest trounced Texas in points in the paint (42-26) and second-chance points (25-7).
Following right behind Brown in scoring was freshman Jordan Hamilton with 19. Hamilton had a solid night shooting the ball, hitting half his three-point attempts (5-of-10). Damion James finished with 16 points but struggled to get the ball in the hoop, making just four of his 14 attempts and only one of his seven three-point shots. Dexter Pittman was nowhere to be found on the offensive end, but did pull down eight rebounds and had a monster block that wedged the ball in-between the rim and the backboard.
There were individual plays like that one worth cheering over but in the end the Longhorns are left with a first round exit and the fans are left wondering what in the world happened to the 2009-2010 season.
Wake Forest moves on to the second round and will take on No. 1 seed Kentucky on Saturday. The Longhorns finish with a record of 24-10, going 17-0 over the first 17 games and 7-10 over the last 17.