The old adage holds that the best thing about freshmen is that they eventually become sophomores. Fans of the Longhorns can surely identify with that statement after Texas dropped their conference opener to Iowa State last night in Ames. Texas was without the services of J’Covan Brown down the stretch, leaving the six-man freshman class and Clint Chapman in charge of a comeback bid that fell just short.
Things looked promising for Texas when Iowa State big man Royce White went to the bench with two fouls just minutes into the game. But instead of cratering, the Cyclones built a ten-point halftime lead on the strength of 75% shooting from behind the arc. The Longhorns came out aggressive in the second half, erasing that lead in just minutes, fueled by Brown’s 19 points. Unfortunately, the junior guard injured his ankle as he finished a nice spin move in the lane, and the Cyclones were able to quickly rebuild a lead that they would cling to until the final buzzer.
What looked good
Even with Brown exploding for 19 points in just 25 minutes, the real story of the night was the surprising emergence of fifth-year senior Clint Chapman. The Canby, Oregon native had earned his first start of the season in the team’s previous game against Rice, but immediately found himself in foul trouble and was completely ineffective. Last night’s game provided Chapman a second-straight start, and the Longhorns made an immediate effort to get him the ball.
The big man responded with the best game of his career, putting in 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting, while also locking down the glass on both ends of the floor. His 14 rebounds were a career high, and he led all players in both offensive and defensive boards. Most importantly, Chapman was making the point-blank shots that he — and many of the Longhorns — have struggled with all season. The Longhorns don’t necessarily need Chapman playing this ridiculously well in every game, but his consistent conversion of the easy looks is imperative to the team’s success in Big 12 play.
While Chapman raised the eyebrows in Hilton Coliseum, Brown tied him as leading scorer for the game. This was J’Covan’s most complete, efficient game in quite some time, and it’s not a stretch to say that the team could have pulled out a win if he played the last 12 minutes of the game. He was dicing up the Iowa State defense in the second half, penetrating at will for points inside. When he came out of the game for the last time, Texas trailed just 49-47 and was moving the ball well, notching assists on all three buckets that he didn’t score himself.
On the night, Brown shot 70% from the floor, knocked down all four free throws, and coughed it up just once. After posting 16 turnovers against just nine assists in his last three games, Brown’s lack of miscues against the Cyclones is a huge development.
Longhorn fans can also be reassured by the performance by freshman Sheldon McClellan. His shot was off all night, as evidenced by his 2-of-11 line. He missed all four of his shots from behind the arc, including some where he was completely wide open. Instead of going into a shell and being totally ineffective, he continued to put the ball on the floor and attacked the paint, drawing a ton of fouls on the baseline defenders. McClellan made it to the line 13 times in this game, grinding out a 14-point performance.
Once again, McClellan also avoided any turnovers despite all of his moves to the basket. With another clean sheet, his incredible turnover rate creeps even lower, to just 5.2% on the year. A number that low is typically reserved for your three-point specialists, who rarely attack or try to feed the ball inside.
Texas also did a good job on the defensive glass, ensuring that Iowa State couldn’t extend possessions. The Longhorns held the Cyclones to an offensive rebounding mark of just 22.6%, their worst percentage of the season.
What needed work
Of course, that impressive defensive rebounding performance didn’t mean quite as much when the Horns let the Cyclones knock down 51% of their shots. On top of the poor defense, the few offensive rebounds that Iowa State did manage to grab happened to come at the worst possible moments. Of the seven missed shots that Iowa State reclaimed, two of them were free throws missed as Texas tried to come back down the stretch. With the Longhorn offense already struggling to climb back into it, letting Iowa State have extra chances just made the task even tougher.
While Iowa State made more than 51% of their shots, the real killer was the team’s success from long range. In the first half, the Cyclones made 9-of-12 from outside, and most of the shots were completely unchallenged by the Horns. A simple look at the stat sheet shows how much Iowa State relies on the outside shot, and just how successful they are when they take them. For the Longhorns to continually allow those open looks just speaks to the youth of the team and their inability to remember the scouting report once the bright lights come on.
Texas also struggled to stop Iowa State in transition, giving up numerous dunks and layups on the secondary break. The only thing that gets a crowd more juiced up than a clutch three is a nasty dunk, and the Longhorns let the Hilton Coliseum crowd explode on more than one occasion. The Horns also had two or three possessions in a row where they let White take it coast-to-coast, with no one stopping the ball before White had reached the paint. That kind of lackadaisical defense is going to be absolutely deadly against the kind of athletes Texas will face in the Big 12.
In the half-court, Alexis Wangmene and Jaylen Bond had a particularly tough time defending White. To be fair, we’ve known all season that Wangmene would struggle against bigs who have a good face-up game, so this was a terrible match-up from the start. Bond’s issues, on the other hand, came as a surprise. He further compounded his defensive struggles by wasting his fouls on the offensive end, limiting him to just 11 minutes on the court.
While we mentioned the success Brown and McClellan both had controlling the ball, the same could not be said for the rest of the Horns. Texas coughed it up on 22.6% of its possessions, the fifth time this season that the team has exceeded the 22% mark. Three of those poor showings have come in the team’s last four games, which is a scary trend to start as conference play gets cranked up. The Longhorns have to make their possessions count during these next two months, so they will have to quickly cut down on the errors.
Four of those turnovers came from Myck Kabongo, who once again struggled when Brown was out of the game. When J’Covan fouled out on a technical in New Jersey, Kabongo looked lost and overwhelmed by the moment and extra pressure. Against the Cyclones, he at least tried to break the defense down off the dribble a few times, but that really just meant that he ran full-tilt into ill-conceived drives. On multiple occasions, he simply made a beeline towards the baseline and threw up a wild prayer of a shot against two or three defenders. One of those shots even went off the side of the backboard.
When Myck is on his game, his dribble penetration is just as effective as Brown’s. While he’s not the finisher inside that J’Covan is, Myck has even better floor vision to find passing lanes that his counterpart might not. Unfortunately, finding a way to consistently perform that well has been a challenge for the freshman. Expectations were set very high for Kabongo based on his impressive play at the high school level, but it’s clear that it’s going to take some time for him to adjust to the pressures at this one. Texas’ growth this season will likely follow Kabongo’s own trajectory.
The Longhorns lacking any real penetration threat allowed Iowa State to focus on shutting down Chapman. As a result, in the waning minutes of the game the Texas offense often turned into a stagnant two-man game. The Cyclones could force Chapman well off the block, while Kabongo waited on the perimeter for an entry feed that could only be made much too far from the hoop.
Texas didn’t solely focus on forcing the ball in to Chapman, as there were a few sets where Julien Lewis was able to find some space on cuts without the ball, and Kabongo also worked to get it to McClellan when Chapman was guarded. None of that turned into points, however, and the Horns were only able to manage an and-one putback from Chapman during an especially futile span of more than six minutes down the stretch.
The offense was at least moving somewhat without Brown in this game, which is a vast improvement from how it looked when they were without his services in New Jersey. Unfortunately, “moving somewhat” didn’t equal any points, and it isn’t going to cut it in the Big 12. At this point, it seems that for Texas to succeed without Brown on the floor, there will have to be much more motion off the ball to give Kabongo and the Horns more options.
Up next: vs. Oklahoma State (8-6 overall, 1-0 Big 12); Saturday, 6 P.M. CT