Basketball

Texas prevails 60-50 over Texas A&M in rivalry matchup

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FORT WORTH — The return of the Lone Star Showdown on the football field will have to wait, but the return of the men’s basketball edition was noteworthy for the pairing of teams rather than the play on the court.

Texas A&M led Texas for 21 seconds after A&M’s Emmanuel Miller hit a jumper with 13:42 remaining in the first half. From that 5-4 deficit, Texas never trailed again on the way to a 60-50 win over the Aggies in the first regular season matchup between the two teams since 2015.

Junior Jase Febres scored a game-high 17 points on 6-for-13 shooting, while sophomore Andrew Jones added 12 points and 5 assists in a 10-point victory over the Longhorns’ in-state rival.

The nationally televised matchup between the Aggies and the Longhorns was intriguing due to who Dickies Arena was able to pair on the floor. The new 14,000-seat arena in Fort Worth held a healthy amount of fans in both burnt orange and maroon, with both team’s pep bands making the trip to the Metroplex.

Texas head coach Shaka Smart said there were players on his team who knew what this rivalry meant from living in-state; Will Baker, Donovan Williams, Royce Hamm, Andrew Jones, and Jase Febres. However, he wanted to drive home that the names on the jerseys across from them wasn’t as important as what his team could do.

“We talked some to the guys about the rivalry and what it means to fans, but regardless of who we’re playing we always try to make the game about us playing to our standard,” Smart said. “We try not to make the opponent or the venue or any other circumstance bigger than that.”

Even with the emphasis on playing to standards, the players knew they were playing Texas’ in-state rival. Even Bahamian Kai Jones, a freshman who played his prep basketball in New Hampshire, knew he was stepping into a rivalry game.

“I definitely felt it,” Jones said postgame. “People around the school would talk about it as a rivalry because (Texas and Texas A&M) are both heavy hitters in the state of Texas. Once I put that jersey on, once you tell me who the rival is, I’m ready to go at them.”

Though the basketball edition of the rivalry doesn’t have near the value with fans like the once-annual Thanksgiving football tradition, both schools will gladly accept any chance they can to get one over on the other — even if manner of victory isn’t aesthetically pleasing.

Junior Matt Coleman, normally the catalyst for the Longhorn offense, was 3-of-8 shooting with 8 points. He had a season-high 6 turnovers with only 4 assists. Texas A&M played close defense on the ball-handler all evening, and Coleman felt the brunt of that effort.

The Aggies’ defensive strategy proved beneficial for Febres and Andrew Jones. The two combined to go 11-for-24 from the field and 6-for-17 from three.

Febres was able to hit several shots in the short corner throughout the course of the game after the A&M defense left him all alone.

“Not a lot of teams help off the corner, but I guess that was their gameplan,” Febres said. “They left me open. If you do that, I’ve got to come in and make ‘em pay.”

Distance shooting from Jones and Febres weren’t the only highlight plays in a game without very many. Kai Jones was on the emphatic end of several alley-oops, including one from Andrew Jones that put Texas up 13 with just over four minutes left.

“Andrew told me a few games ago if I give it to him, he’s going to give it back,” Kai said. “I gave it to him, he threw a great pass, and I was able to finish.”

Texas held Texas A&M at bay for most of the first half. The Longhorns limited the Aggies to 17 points and one made three-point attempt.

A&M was far more efficient on offense in the second half. Aggie big man Joshua Nebo tallied 4 points in the first half, but added 12 tough points in the second half on 5-of-8 shooting. Two of those five were emphatic dunks, the second cutting Texas’ 10-point halftime lead to six with 12:59 remaining.

Texas and A&M then traded baskets, but Febres helped Texas pull away. He hit another three, bumping Texas’ lead up to 9. Febres added one more, and Kai Jones scored 4 points in 1:21 to put Texas’ lead back up to double-digits.

There are several quality post players in the Big 12 conference whose ability is equal to or even better than Nebo’s. Smart didn’t lay the blame for his 16 points entirely on his post triumvirate of Jericho Sims, Royce Hamm, and Kai Jones after the game, but noted their need for improvement.

“Most of his baskets he earned,” Smart said of Nebo. “From our standpoint in terms of what we can control, there were some breakdowns in terms of team defense. I wouldn’t put him having 16 points just on those guys, but that being said we certainly can be better on individual defense down there.”

At this point in the season, Texas’ best win still is its road victory over Purdue. Remaining non-conference opponents Central Michigan, High Point, and Providence don’t appear to be NCAA Tournament quality teams, so stacking non-conference wins remains a huge priority for Smart.

A&M won’t be considered a NCAA Tournament quality team either, but for Texas, it’s still nice to beat the rival.

“This was a big game for me,” Febres said. “ I know the rivalry. I’m well-informed about it. It meant a lot to me, and meant a lot to the whole team.”