No. 7 Texas put on a run late in the game but fell just short to No. 8 Notre Dame, losing 81-80 in a thriller in the second round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
Texas once again struggled to hit its shots and, for the first time this season, had problems on the defensive end, but thanks to some clutch shooting still had a chance in the waning moments.
The Longhorns had trailed 79-71 with 43 seconds to go, but A.J. Abrams — who up until this point was having a rough shooting night — knocked down a pair of three pointers to narrow the Irish advantage to 81-77. Abrams missed his next shot, but Texas’ Connor Atchley pulled down the rebound and kicked it across to Gary Johnson. Johnson tossed it back to Justin Mason, who nailed the three-pointer to take a game that was seemingly out-of-reach down to only a one-point difference with six seconds remaining.
A quick foul from Atchley put Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody at the line. Harangody was exactly who Texas fans didn’t want to see in that position. The junior forward had been a beast throughout the game, scoring a game-high 29 points and pulling down a game-high 13 rebounds.
But Notre Dame’s star missed both free throws, meaning Texas had to make just one shot to pull off the comeback victory. Unfortunately for the Horns, they also had no timeouts, meaning when Harangody missed his final free throw with 3.5 seconds to go, the mad dash was on. Abrams heaved up a half-courter that reached the front-iron but no further as the shot, and Texas, fell short, 81-80.
The 80 points were a season-high for the Horns, but they had a number of issues on the offensive end. A.J. Abrams was unusually off with his shot, only converting five of his 17 three-point attempts, with two of those five makes coming in the final minute. Damion James put in a double-double for Texas, scoring 11 and grabbing 12 boards.
Though Abrams led the team in points and James led the team in rebounds, Texas’ MVP was junior guard Justin Mason. Several players rotated in and out of the point guard role for Texas, but none was more efficient than Mason, who doled out seven assists compared to only a single turnover, more than making up for his five-turnover game against St. Joseph’s the day before. No other Longhorn had more than one assist in the game.
It’s not surprising that Mason was able to play the point well, as he played well in every role that was asked of him, putting up 16 points, five rebounds and a block to go with his seven assists.
Texas (3-1) may have had a season-high in points scored, but 81 was also a season-high in points given up. Much of it had to do with how well the Fighting Irish (4-0) protected the ball. The Longhorns had been taking away an average of 20.7 turnovers in their first three game, but Notre Dame only turned the ball over six times in the win. Texas gave up nine, with the game-high of four coming from James.
With the win over the Horns, Notre Dame heads to the Maui Invitational championship game and will take on the winner of Tuesday night’s game between No. 1 North Carolina and Oregon. Texas will play the loser on Wednesday for third place at 3:30 p.m. CST.