Rick Barnes and the Texas Longhorns knew they needed to control the basketball against an athletic, talented Georgetown team at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. “We talked over and over about turning the ball over,” Barnes told reporters after the game.
Those talks didn’t seem to have much effect, however, as Julien Lewis coughed it up on the very first possession. It was the third straight game in which Texas turned it over on their first trip down the court, and it was one of six miscues the Longhorns would log in the first four minutes of the game.
That disastrous opening to the game set the tone for the entire night, as Texas turned it over 22 times, wasting 32% of their possessions. It marked the third time this season the Longhorns posted a turnover percentage of 32% or more, and it raised their season mark to 28.3%, seventh worst out of 347 Division I teams.
The problems started at the top, with point guard Javan Felix having one of the worst games of his young career. The freshman turned it over five times while logging just three assists, and he was a hideous 1-of-9 from the field. Although Felix was able to drive the lane against the Georgetown defense, he missed numerous shots, had others blocked, and had no touch on his preferred weapon of choice, the floater.
The poor shooting was a team-wide epidemic, with the Longhorns making just 29.2% of their shots on the night. Although Georgetown made Texas work for their looks, there were far too many missed opportunities when the Horns did manage to get the ball to the rim. Texas missed 13 shots that were classified as layups on the play-by-play, while Cameron Ridley actually came up short on an embarrassing dunk attempt.
It’s certainly worth noting that Georgetown has length up and down the lineup to a degree that Texas had not yet faced. The Hoyas started four players at least 6’8″ tall, although big man Mikael Hopkins only ended up playing nine minutes on the night.
While that kind of height and length can make it incredibly difficult to score inside or to get off good outside looks against quick closeouts, the Longhorns will soon face many more teams with similar makeups. North Carolina, Baylor, and Kansas all have rosters loaded with athleticism and length, and the Longhorns will face the latter two teams twice each. If Texas can’t figure out a way to make their opportunities count when they get to the rim, the rest of the season is going to be a long, painful journey.
What makes the team’s woes in the paint even more worrisome is that the Longhorns are also not taking advantage at the free-throw line. Ridley made just three of his nine attempts at the charity stripe, dragging the team’s percentage down to 52.4% for the game. It was certainly productive and a sign of progress that the big man earned so many touches in the paint against Georgetown, but he can easily be rendered useless when opponents can simply hack him to prevent scoring. With his season free-throw mark now under 40%, there’s no reason why any opponent should ever give Ridley an easy layup or dunk.
This game also underscored the problems this team will face if Sheldon McClellan is going to be the only player able to create his own looks. Felix is shooting just 34% on the season, including a horrendous 7.7% mark behind the arc. Defenses don’t have to respect his shot and can easily sag off to take away his driving threat. Julien Lewis has proven to be a catch-and-shoot guy, so he’s not one that can be counted on to penetrate and force the defense to react.
At this point, all the eggs are in the Kabongo basket, as the team waits to learn the fate of their sophomore point guard. Although he struggled at times to capitalize on his drives as a freshman, even the mere possibility that he has improved in that regard is better than the options on the table with the current roster.
Texas is also anxiously awaiting the return of Jaylen Bond, a forward who plays much bigger and tougher than his size. The Hoyas repeatedly beat Texas to 50-50 balls in last night’s game, and even ripped a rebound right out of the arms of Jonathan Holmes. If the Longhorns are going to be a poor-shooting team this season, they simply have to show some toughness on the boards. Being held to 28.9% on the offensive glass isn’t going to cut it against the upcoming schedule, so Bond’s return cannot come a minute too soon.
Texas has to bounce back quickly, as a showdown with UCLA awaits on Saturday in Houston. Although the Bruins are under-performing to a shocking degree this season, the Longhorns will still face an uphill battle to earn the win. If they continue to repeat the same mistakes and show the same lack of focus that they have displayed during the first four weeks of the season, this could be the start of a very long December.
Up next: vs. UCLA (5-3), in Houston; Saturday, 4:15 P.M. CT