Four-point Play: Texas 75, Kansas 72 (OT)

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Texas topped Kansas in overtime, 75-72, and made history in the process.

The Grand Scheme of Things – Early in the day on Tuesday, Texas received its schedule ahead of the Big 12 Tournament. It consisted of four road games in nine days. Two of those games include matchups with ranked teams in Texas Tech and Oklahoma.

There are no breaks in the Big 12, but that’s a difficult stretch for a team that constantly seems to find itself in difficult stretches this season for a variety of reasons, some self-inflicted. Entering the final few games with yet another loss at home to a surging Kansas would have opened up this Texas team to serious questions, if they haven’t opened themselves up to those questions already.

But through a second-half comeback effort and a tenacious defensive performance late and in overtime, Shaka Smart’s team not only will enter that stretch with a measure of momentum, but with a little bit of history emanating from UT’s senior night. Texas is just the second team to sweep a regular season home-and-home series with Kansas during the Bill Self era.

“It’s good to have that in the back of our mind going into these last games here,” Jericho Sims said after the game. “We’re going to be on the road, and I think we showed a lot of fight in this game. That translates to really going and getting road wins for us.”

If there was ever a Texas team to top Kansas two times in one year, it was this one. Even with all its issues, this is Smart’s best Texas team. They topped the Jayhawks by a historic margin in Allen Fieldhouse the same day Steve Sarkisian’s hire was made official. Plenty has transpired since that game, including a difficult stretch with COVID protocols, brutal Texas weather, and losses to OU, Baylor, and Oklahoma State.

For Smart’s team to recover from a 14-point deficit after surrendering an early first half lead shows a measure of fortitude that hasn’t shown through as often as Texas fans would like during his tenure. There were familiar blemishes and blunders – Texas was 1-of-13 from three in the first half – but they still fought through and overcame the Jayhawks thanks to five players in double-digit scoring.

“I really give our guys a ton of credit for the way they responded starting at the end of the first half and then coming out to start the second half,” Smart said. “I thought the response was as good as we’ve had this year, and we needed to be that way.”

Brock Cunningham – Brock Cunningham scored zero points. He missed every field goal, didn’t attempt a free throw, and committed four fouls. It’s cliché to write, but in this instance, it holds true: Cunningham did what could not be reflected in the scorebook. Smart called his play “unbelievable” after the win.

“I could not take him out of the game,” Smart said. “He was just too valuable. The way that he was flying around on defense, communicating.”

Smart said Cunningham needs to play like the “Ultimate Warrior” with reckless abandon. There was some reckless abandon with his four fouls in 22 minutes, but his efforts diving for loose balls, retaining possession by throwing the ball off opponents out of bounds, and his constant quest for offensive rebounds helped Texas limit Kansas to 10 points in the final 10:17 of play.

“I thought he really got into that place in the second half,” Smart said.

The late defensive effort – 42 points is a lot in a half, and those 42 first-half Kansas points weren’t happening so much because of sizzling shooting but rather consistently inconsistent defense from the Longhorns. Texas went on a 7-0 run in the middle stages of the first half to take a 16-11 lead. From that point with 11:55 left in the first half to halftime, Kansas outscored the Longhorns 32-16.

The interior defense was almost non-existent for much of the half. The Jayhawks built up a 14-point lead that Texas trimmed to 11 at the break.

“We weren’t ourselves in the first half identity-wise,” Matt Coleman said. “That’s why we were down 14. They were outplaying us, playing harder than us. We were turning the ball over, and that’s why the score reflected how it was.”

Jayhawk center David McCormack’s size wasn’t giving Texas issues. He wasn’t giving Texas issues at all after picking up two fouls in the first half. When he left the floor, Kansas went small and was able to slice-and-dice the Longhorns.

But during the second half, the Longhorns slowly chipped away. The 11-point lead was reduced to nine at the under-16. It was four at the under-12. By the time less than 10 minutes remained in the game, Texas had taken a lead.

Kansas scored four points over the final five minutes of regulation, and two points over the final 3:10 of the second half. They scored six points in overtime.

“Certainly wasn’t our most efficient offensive game,” Smart said. “Kansas had a ton to do with that but holding them to 23 points in the second half and six points in overtime flat out won us the game.”

A significant senior sendoff – Beating Kansas is a big deal. Are they a Final Four contender? Probably not this year. Are they still a talented team within the Big 12? Of course.

Texas’ win last night wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as the beatdown in Allen Fieldhouse, but the result was the same. Two wins against the Jayhawks in one regular season?

“It means a lot being able to be a part of history,” Coleman said. “Now we just want to continue to make more history as we move forward into the rest of the season.”

Sims agreed: “It means a lot because we’re going to remember this even when we’re all done playing at the end of our careers. We’ve got to continue this path that we’re on getting more wins for us so we can put ourselves in the best position.”

Cover photo courtesy of Texas Basketball