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NASHVILLE — Shaka Smart’s Texas squad played the game it wanted to through the first 20 minutes of its first round matchup against 7th seed Nevada.
The second half and overtime played to the Wolfpack’s style, and that allowed them to erase a 14-point deficit to win in overtime, 87-83.
“It’s a devastating loss,” Smart said after the game. “It’s a terrible feeling right now.”
The first 20 minutes could not have gone any better for the Longhorns. They limited a prolific shooting team to 11 made shots and only one made free throw. Nevada also made just three attempts from beyond the arc.
On the offensive end, Texas played calm and in control. Freshman Matt Coleman and junior Kerwin Roach combined for 22 of Texas’ 35 first-half points, while sophomore Jacob Young added seven of his own. Texas slowed Nevada down to just 26 points, and entered halftime smiling and confident.
Texas continued to look confident coming out of the second half, but after Nevada head coach Eric Musselman’s timeout at the 18:42 mark, the direction of the game changed. The Wolfpack cut the deficit to single digits. Then, over the course of the last five minutes, Nevada bit-by-bit, wore the deficit down to one possession.
Then they tied it at the end of regulation after failing to follow through on a chance to win gifted to them by Texas.
Both teams entered overtime, but Texas was without one of its most important pieces, freshman Mohamed Bamba. Bamba fouled out with three seconds remaining in regulation, and was forced to watch what most likely was his final game as a Longhorn on the sidelines.
“During that, I was just trying to impact, you know, rub some energy off my teammates, try and impact the game as much as possible even from the sideline,” Bamba said on what his mindset was after being disqualified.
In overtime, Coleman and Roach tried to will Texas to Smart’s first NCAA Tournament victory as a Longhorn. The backcourt duo scored all 15 of Texas’ overtime points, but Nevada’s 19, including nine from Caleb Martin, sent the Longhorns home.
“[Nevada] made some huge, huge plays, huge shots,” Smart said. “In the second half, in overtime. They’re a really, really good team. Obviously, we put ourselves in position early in the second half to take the game. We didn’t play with enough aggressiveness down the stretch. I thought they were the more aggressive team and that gave them an edge.”
Bamba was able to put up 13 points and 14 rebounds, although it seemed like he didn’t have his fingerprints on the offensive game. Several of his field goals came from put-backs because getting the ball to him in the flow of the offense was made extremely difficult by Nevada.
Not having Bamba’s 7-foot-9 wingspan in overtime was definitely a factor, but his small role in the offense during the course of the game was due to Nevada’s focus on making it tough for the ball to find him.
“They did a really nice job trying to take away some of the driving angles,” Smart said. “We were trying to look to throw the ball inside. They doubled. They doubled before the ball even went in.”
Texas had opportunity after opportunity to put the game away. They could have extended the lead to 20 at certain points. They could have improved on their 10-of-18 free throw mark, with several of those eight misses coming in crunch time.
The Wolfpack, instead, chipped. Rather than concede the game, Eric Musselman’s men played with little fear and did everything they could to get back into the game, all while Texas’ effort to stop them was lacking.
“Being up nine in an NCAA Tournament game, you know the other team’s going to really do everything they can to make a run,” Smart said. “Our guys started the half really, really well. But, again, I thought the crucial part of that second half was when they took control in terms of being the more aggressive team.”
Despite Coleman’s career-high 25 points, the emotion of defeat was evident in the Longhorn point guard’s words and facial expressions.
Coleman appeared dejected while fielding questions, fighting back tears. When asked what his mindset was, his answer provided a succinct summation of the game.
“Find a way to win,” Coleman said. “But that didn’t happen. Came up short.”