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FORT WORTH — With under four minutes remaining, Texas was in an unfamiliar position.
Shaka Smart’s team, which had lost its last three, was leading by seven with 3:45 remaining. TCU’s Desmond Bane then hit two free throws following the under-4 timeout to cut the Texas lead to six, Francisco Farabello hit a three-pointer off a Longhorn turnover to cut the deficit to three, and RJ Nembhard nailed another shot from distance to tie the game at 59 with 2:22 remaining.
Junior guard Jase Febres said he felt the team got stagnant on offense during the late stretch where TCU came back, with dribbling and more dribbling the offensive process instead of cutting, movement, and other aspects of the game Texas was successful in most of the evening.
Then, Febres hit a deep three-point prayer at the end of the shot clock to give Texas a 62-59 lead with 109 seconds left.
“When it came out of my hand, I saw the trajectory and I knew it was going to go in,” Febres said postgame.
That would be Texas’ final score of the evening. The Horned Frogs had an opportunity to tie it with six seconds on the clock, but the Longhorn defense forced Nembhard into a travel and Smart’s team emerged from Schollmaier Arena with a 62-61 win.
Texas had a good sense of what TCU wanted to run with the game on the line. Just two years earlier in Austin, TCU ran a play for Jaylen Fisher in double-overtime. He raced down the floor with a chance to hit a game-winning layup but missed it. That gave Texas an emotional win on the day they found out Andrew Jones had leukemia.
Smart liked that play so much he said he added it to his own offense’s repertoire. When it came time to defend it in Fort Worth, his players had an idea of what was coming.
“Our guys did a good job on the switch when they came off the pick and roll and stayed in front,” Smart said. “I didn’t see his feet, but obviously the key was just staying in front and not letting him have a clear path to the basket.”
Texas’ defense allowed the Horned Frogs to tie the game after the under-4, forcing Smart to use a timeout with 2:20 left. When he returned to his team, he found he only needed to reinforce what his players were already discussing.
“They really owned that huddle,” Smart said. “They did a great job after TCU made the two threes of coming in and saying we’ve got this. Let’s get back to playing with more aggressiveness on defense. Let’s bring this win home. I was just echoing what they were saying.”
Sims and the Longhorns won the game in the final moments on the defensive end, but Texas remained in front of TCU for the majority of the game thanks to three-point shooting. The Longhorns shot 50 percent from deep.
In the first half, Coleman, Andrew Jones, and Donovan Williams all hit one three-pointer joining Febres’ trio of made triples. Ramey and Febres both hit 2-of-3 in the second half, while Andrew Jones added one more for a 5-of-12 team mark from distance in the second twenty minutes.
From inside the arc, Texas was 12-for-30 in the first half, but responded with an 8-of-12 half in the second. TCU won the turnover battle, but Texas surprisingly won the rebounding margin 32-31.
Febres lead all Longhorns with 15 points all resulting from three-point makes. Sophomore Courtney Ramey was the only other Longhorn in double figures with 12. Juniors Jericho Sims and Matt Coleman each added 9 points.
Nembhard and big man Kevin Samuel lead all scorers with 17 points apiece. Samuel was 8-of-11 from the field, while the rest of the Horned Frogs were 15-for-43, good for 35 percent.
Samuel was an issue for the Texas front court. With no Kamaka Hepa or Gerald Liddell available once again, Sims, freshman Kai Jones, and junior Royce Hamm were called to defend Samuel, who Smart called “a load” after the game. They struggled as 30 of TCU’s 61 points resulted from shots in the paint.
Despite problems playing against another Big 12 post player, Hamm delivered a stretch in the second half pivotal to the Texas win. He hit two free throws, forced a turnover on a Horned Frog fast break, and made the most of his opportunity, drawing praise from Smart after the game.
“He really wants to play and wants to help the team,” Smart continued. “With the injuries we’ve had, he’s gotten a lot more opportunity.”
The win staved off a four-game losing streak and a three-game skid in Big 12 play. Postseason hopes for Texas fade with every loss, but every win keeps them just in the conversation for teams contending to be a part of postseason play.
“To lose three games in a row, we didn’t want to lose four,” Ramey said. “We knew this was going to be hostile territory. We knew if we played our best and they played their best we were going to win the game, and that showed tonight.”
Now 13-7 and 3-4 in Big 12 play, Texas returns to the Erwin Center Saturday to face Iowa State.