The Longhorns finally got the monkey off their back, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Texas was 0-7 in games decided by two possessions or less this season, having left a handful of opportunities for quality wins sitting on the table. Monday night, the Longhorns learned from those past mistakes and came up with big plays in the clutch, hanging on for a narrow two-point win at Reed Arena.
As Texas heads down the homestretch of the season, the magnitude of each game grows. Unfortunately, simply winning games might not be enough to get the Longhorns into the NCAA Tournament for a 14th-consecutive year. They must win the right games, and avoiding losing to the wrong teams.
Even though last night’s victory came on the road against a talented A&M team, the unforgiving RPI numbers mean that Texas doesn’t get credit for a good win, only for avoiding a bad loss. The Aggies owned an RPI ranking of 145th coming into the game, and the Longhorns already have one loss against teams ranked below 100, having fallen in overtime to Oregon State early in the year. Another loss to the RPI 100+ group would have further weakened an already flimsy résumé.
What looked good
The Longhorns had one of their best offensive performances of the season against the Aggies, scoring 1.169 points per possession. It was the second-best output for an Aggie opponent this season, only ranking behind a 1.222 PPP performance by the Florida Gators in a 20-point blowout of A&M back in December.
Texas found success by being aggressive and moving the ball well. J’Covan Brown, Myck Kabongo, and Sheldon McClellan put the ball on the floor and attacked the paint, getting good midrange looks and setting up teammates under the hoop with timely assists.
McClellan had his best game of the year, scoring 15 points on 45% shooting. He was exceptionally hot in the first half and as a result, he took a few questionable shots. At that point, though, everything was going down for the freshman. With Kabongo having an unfortunate tendency to disappear at times or to get himself into foul trouble, Texas desperately needs a third offensive threat to step up and compliment Brown. If McClellan can continue to attack and play aggressively the rest of the year, the Longhorn offense will be much more effective.
Brown also had a fantastic game, leading all scorers with 20 points on 67% shooting. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the arc, taking his shots off of good feeds or after coming around screens on the perimeter. When Brown doesn’t try to create his own outside looks, he finds much more success from long range. With the Aggie defense having to work harder to limit his outside looks, Brown continued to slice up the D with penetration, adding seven assists as he drew the help inside.
Brown’s dribble penetration also gave Texas the game winning basket, as he came off a screen on the perimeter and drove the left side of the lane. Clint Chapman provided an excellent seal on the help trying to rotate across the paint, and Brown was able to easily lay it in for the deciding points.
Off the bench, freshman Jaylen Bond led everyone with eight boards. He was especially important on the offensive glass in the first half, as it seemed at times that he was the only Longhorn crashing the boards on missed shots. Considering that only Bond, McClellan, and Alexis Wangmene logged any offensive rebounds, that might not have been far from the truth. Bond’s hard work inside led to four key points on putbacks.
In addition to being one of only three Longhorns to earn a second chance for the team, Wangmene did well inside in the early minutes. The guards were finding him when the defense collapsed on their drives, and he was doing a much better job than usual at corralling the passes and finishing. Wangmene finished with 10 points on 80% shooting, and came up with a big-time stop on David Loubeau in the final minute that forced a turnover to help ice the game.
What needed work
Other than that last-minute stand, the Texas defense wasn’t that stout on the inside. Fortunately, the Aggies were hitting just about every mid-range and three-point shot they took, so they didn’t focus on their advantage inside.
When Loubeau would actually receive entry passes on the block, he was practically impossible to stop. What Texas did succeed in doing was forcing him away from the lane prior to receiving those feeds. That’s half the battle, so now the Longhorns — particularly Wangmene and Bond — just need to make their defense more consistent and effective in post-up situations.
As a result of the problems in the paint, the Texas forwards were in constant foul trouble. Chapman saw only 12 minutes of action, having picked up two fouls before the first media timeout had even occurred. The good thing is that for the first time, the other Longhorn bigs stepped up without No. 53 on the court. Even though the whistles caused a revolving door of Texas forwards, Bond, Wangmene, and Jonathan Holmes all made key contributions to the win.
Although the Aggies shot 50% from the field — well above their season average — you can’t complain too much about the Texas defense outside of those low post problems. A&M’s players hit some tough shots with little separation from the defense, and it seemed like every shot they took found the bottom of the net. On some nights, that is just going to be the case, so it was fortuitous timing on the Longhorns’ part to have such an excellent offensive night themselves.
Texas also had some issues boxing out on the defensive end in the first half, giving up four points on a pair of putbacks, one of which turned into a three-point play. The Longhorns tightened up on the defensive glass, however, limiting the Aggies to just six total offensive boards and an offensive rebounding mark of just 30%.
The big picture
As we’ve already mentioned, this win isn’t one that’s going to move the needle for Texas. The Longhorns are at a point where now they must simply stockpile wins against the easier back half of their league schedule, while hopefully grabbing one or two against the remaining top-notch opponents.
The victory gives the Horns their first two-game winning streak since the first week of conference play. Fans have to hope that this gives the team some momentum heading into an incredibly important game against Kansas State on Saturday. While the Wildcats have been slipping lately, they still provide one of just five remaining opportunities for the Longhorns to earn another Top 100 RPI win during the regular season.
Next up: vs. Kansas State (16-6 overall, 5-5 Big 12); Saturday, 1 P.M. CT