As Matt Coleman’s potential game-winning three-point shot bounced off the iron, it was the culmination of a stretch where the Longhorns turned the ball over eight times over the last eight minutes, including four times in the final four.
Despite a 1-for-11 shooting effort from one senior and three straight turnovers from the other in that final stretch, Texas had chances to sneak out of the Erwin Center with a win against head coach Shaka Smart’s former team, the VCU Rams. But when Coleman missed his last-second three and Courtney Ramey missed one a possession prior that sealed Texas’ second straight home loss against a mid-major opponent, 54-53.
“I told the guys in the locker room less than two weeks ago we were 5-0 and we just beat the No. 7 team in the country with the same guys,” Smart said. “Our last three games, or our last 2.5 games, we haven’t played with the same confidence, we haven’t played with the same swagger, and when the games have been close we haven’t made the big plays we need to make.”
Poor performances from Kerwin Roach and Dylan Osetkowski spoiled solid games from Jericho Sims and Jaxson Hayes. Sims lead Texas with 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting, while Hayes was 4-of-5 from the field for 8 points.
Texas relied on the young duo late, playing both on the floor at the same time. The two made six of Texas’ 11 second-half buckets, but their play together wasn’t enough to win late.
“We were up 49-45, I’d have to look back at the tape, but I believe we turned it over three straight times,” Smart said. “You can’t do that in a close game against a good team.”
The Longhorns lost by one point despite shooting 41.5 percent to VCU’s 28 percent. The six-bucket margin was made up at the free throw line where VCU was 16-of-21 compared to Texas’ 5-for-8. In addition, the Rams turned Texas over 18 times and added 17 offensive rebounds which led to 10 second-chance points in the final 20 minutes.
Roach struggled the entire game and forced up shot after shot against multiple defenders. VCU’s Issac Vann defended Roach well and allowed just one tough made field goal over 11 shots.
“That’s something we’ve got to figure out yesterday,” Smart said on Roach’s struggles. “Trust me, it’s been a point of emphasis. He was so good early on for us, and we know he’s going to be a focal point of the other team’s defensive attack. He’s a good player, a really good player, but we have to find other ways to get him in situations where he can attack and drive.”
The young bigs played with more poise than the surrounding pieces. Coleman had a 1-to-1 assist to turnover ratio and only 4 points after he hit a three-pointer with the first shot of the game, Osetkowski coughed up the ball in key moments, and Ramey, Jase Febres, Kamaka Hepa, and Elijah Mitrou-Long added little to the effort down the stretch.
The result is Texas’ third straight loss and second straight at home against a mid-major opponent. The promise from a 5-0 start, especially with a win over a top-25 opponent in North Carolina, seems to have left the team since Thanksgiving night in Las Vegas.
“If you’re a competitor, you’re extremely distraught,” Smart said. “They should be distraught. They should be just downright pissed off, because the reality is these are good teams that we’ve played over these last three games. A lot of things are under our control that we can do better. That’s really, really disappointing when we don’t grab that bull by the horns.”
All that occurs as Purdue, who could be the best non-Big 12 team that visits the Erwin Center, heads to Austin for a game Sunday. A fourth straight loss and third straight at home, and the promise from Turkey Day vanishes as Smart once again returns to searching for resolutions for years-old problems within his program.
“There’s some things that should be keeping all of us up, and will be keeping all of us up at night,” Smart said. “The reality is nobody feels sorry for you. You’ve got another team coming in there that’s a really good team. It’s another opportunity for us to be who we want to be, and nobody’s going to make it easy on us. We have to create that ourselves.”