For the 12th time this season, the Longhorns headed to the locker room on Tuesday night trailing their opponents. Texas had allowed the Oklahoma Sooners to build an eight-point lead late in the first before Sheldon McClellan finished out the half with a clutch three-point play to close the gap to five at the break. Unfortunately for the Sooners, there was still another half to be played.
The Longhorns continued their trend of strong second-half basketball, roaring out of the locker room with a seven-point burst that put them on top and set the tone for the final twenty minutes. Texas shot over 45% from the field in the second half after making just a third of their attempts in the first, and they forced 10 Oklahoma turnovers after the break. The Longhorns outscored the Sooners by 16 in the second frame, cruising to an 11-point win.
What looked good
Julien Lewis took over for the first few minutes of the second half, scoring on a fast break layup to open the scoring. On the next possession, he forced one of those 10 turnovers and turned his steal into a fast break bucket. Just two minutes later, Lewis added an offensive board on an outstanding hustle play, which led to a wide open three for Myck Kabongo that put the Horns on top by one.
J’Covan Brown kept the rally going for Texas, bouncing back from a tough and inefficient first half. After going 2-for-8 in the first half, Brown sank three of his six shots in the second, with all three makes coming from behind the arc. He also added a pair of steals as Texas turned up the defensive pressure in the second half.
Freshman Sheldon McClellan cracked double figures in scoring for the 16th time this year, chipping in 13 points. Although he missed all three of his attempts from long range, McClellan attacked with the bounce, knocking in some nice floaters amidst traffic. He also earned his way to the stripe with those drives, adding five points on a perfect night at the line. McClellan also snagged five boards, four of those coming on the defensive end. Against a solid offensive rebounding team like Oklahoma, getting that kind of board production from a swingman is huge.
McClellan wasn’t the only Longhorn who manufactured points, as the Longhorns did an excellent job attacking the defense inside and earning trips to the line in the second half. It was the second straight game that Texas scored a ton of points from the charity stripe down the stretch. Against Kansas State and Oklahoma, the Longhorns shot 46 second-half free throws, converting 39 of them. To put it in a tempo-free context, Texas posted a free-throw rate of 121%, meaning that the Horns actually shot 21% more free throws than field goals in their last two second halves.
Kabongo was a big part of that success at the line, as the freshman guard made all six of his free throw attempts. He finished with 13 points and seven assists — one on a highlight-reel alley-oop to Jaylen Bond — but easily could have had a double-double if his teammates converted the looks he was setting up for them. In the first half, Myck was the most successful player against the Oklahoma zone, consistently finding soft spots to penetrate before dishing it down low. Unfortunately, the Longhorns couldn’t make their open looks and started the game just 2-of-7 from the field.
What needed work
Those problems inside were especially tough for big man Clint Chapman, who made just two of nine on the night. While his makes came on a pair of nice midrange jumpers from the baseline, he was completely ineffective from within a few feet of the rim. Clint has played really well over the last few weeks, so fans have to hope that this was just one bad game and he will revert to that high level of play. On a Longhorn team that relies on quick, driving guards, the frontcourt has to be able to convert those easy looks inside.
The only other major concern for the Longhorns was a bit of lazy play against Oklahoma’s 3-2 zone in the first half. Although Kabongo was consistently attacking and the Horns were getting some quality looks from long range, there were still quite a few possessions where Texas settled for long, challenged jumpers. A team will never run every possession to perfection, but on a night where even the open looks weren’t going down, it made the wasted possessions stick out even more.
The Longhorns will be facing another zone on Monday night when they take on Baylor, so they need to remain disciplined and do the right things on offense. The Bear zone is particularly weak in the short corner, so quality team offense can result in a ton of easy buckets if Texas makes the smart plays.
The big picture
The fact that the Longhorns shot that poorly from the floor and still pulled out a win on the road is very reassuring. While Oklahoma isn’t a team bound for the NCAAs, they are still much more talented than their 3-10 conference record indicates. Finding a way to win on an off night is the sign of a quality team, and overcoming that kind of adversity has been a challenge for Texas this season.
Although this four-game winning streak includes wins over the bottom three teams in the league standings, it is still very encouraging. Two of those wins came on the road, while the comeback win against Kansas State at home was truly remarkable. The Texas schedule is easier than those of some other bubble teams right now, and the Horns are simply taking care of business. Although many of these wins won’t beef up the résumé, by simply continuing to win, the Horns are moving themselves up the S-curve. With just three victories needed for the magical 20-win mark, a W at Oklahoma State on Saturday would make that milestone a near certainty.
Up next: at Oklahoma State (12-13 overall, 5-7 Big 12); Saturday, 3 P.M. CT