Basketball

Oklahoma State 81, Texas 59: Longhorns’ Tournament chances dealt difficult blow in regular season finale

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For the 2019-20 season, Texas shot 35 percent from three. Over the five games the Longhorns won leading up to Oklahoma State, UT shot 43.6 percent from behind the arc. Against the Cowboys on Saturday, Texas missed 24 of its 29 three-point attempts.

The Cowboys, led by Thomas Dziagwa’s 19 points on 7-of-7 shooting, dealt the Longhorns an 81-59 defeat. The ‘Pokes shot a blistering 74 percent on 14-of-19 shooting in the second half, sending Shaka Smart’s team back to the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Smart’s five game win-streak earned the label improbable. Though a correction seemed imminent especially given the glaring depth problems of an eight-man rotation, he could not have expected such a letdown.

“Today, I feel like we were the opposite of who we’ve been the last five games,” Smart said.

The Erwin Center was as full as it had been all season, and as much as Texas fans wanted a shorthanded team to somehow will itself to victory, Texas couldn’t execute on either end. Offensively, the shooting woes that seemed emblematic of the entire Smart Era returned. The Longhorns made one quarter of their first half shots. For the game, Texas hit five three-pointers matching the total from February 15’s 81-52 loss at Iowa State.

The game seemed out of hand extremely early, as Oklahoma State held a 27-7 lead midway through the first half.

“We just kept imploring our guys to respond and go win the next round, but you could see on their faces early after they got up they couldn’t believe what was happening,” Smart said.

A team that prided itself on defense over the recent stretch of game could not stop anything the 17-14 (7-11 Big 12) Cowboys threw their way. Dziagwa didn’t miss in the first half and added 14 in the first twenty minutes. His teammate Cameron McGriff also filled the scoresheet, finishing with 19 points on 7-of-9 from the field.

It wasn’t just quality shooting. The Cowboys often found themselves in the lane and able to score efficiently adding 38 points in the paint. All the while a lid stayed over the Longhorns’ basket.

“We didn’t do nearly a good enough job making them mess, defending them with urgency, and that’s really our formula,” Smart said. “Any time that we’ve been really good, we lead with that end. Starting with the very beginning of the game today, we did not do that.”

Kai Jones and Matt Coleman were the only scoring threats for the Longhorns. Jones scored a career-high 20 points and brought down 7 rebounds. Coleman couldn’t find his stroke from three, but added 18 points. No other Longhorn scored in double-figures.

The team that could credibly rely on its guards to score from distance at most junctures, such as a last second shot versus Oklahoma, couldn’t get anything from secondary ball-handlers. Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey combined for 4-of-18 shooting, and 1-of-11 from distance.

Texas utilized all eight players available, and even was without Hepa for a short amount of time after he needed to head to the locker room following a flagrant 1 on Yor Anei.

But Brock Cunningham, who played a key role in Texas’ recent wins, did little to help on or off the stat sheet. Same with Will Baker, who also dropped a goose egg. Royce Hamm added a single free throw. Three players; one point.

“Those guys that have to just be junkyard dogs,” Smart said. “That’s what they’ve done such a nice job of late. We didn’t have that today.”

With a win, Texas could have finished by itself in third place in the Big 12 behind Kansas and Baylor. It could have found itself as close to safely in the NCAA Tournament as a 20-11 team can be.

Instead, the identity of the Longhorns over the last few games was crushed, and Texas now finds itself on the bubble once again, hoping it has done enough or can do enough to still make the field of 68. That will require positive results in Kansas City during the Big 12 Tournament this week.

“There’s eight days until Selection Sunday,” Smart said. “There’s two categories of teams: there’s teams that are still playing and there are teams that are done playing. As long as we’re in that first category, our mentality has to be to help our self. The way you do that is by winning.”