Saturday was the day the streaks died. The Longhorns came into Lincoln, Nebraska boasting a perfect 11-0 mark in the Big 12, a streak of 264 minutes without trailing, and a seven-game winning streak on the road. The Cornhuskers wiped away all of that with an incredible second-half performance, neutralizing the vaunted Texas defense en route to a 70-67 win.
For the Cornhuskers, the win was the marquee victory they have needed to pad their NCAA tournament résumé. At 18-8 overall, they now have wins over Texas and Texas A&M, plus upcoming opportunities to knock off Kansas State and Missouri at home. While Nebraska was on the fringes of the bubble discussion before Saturday, now they find themselves squarely in the middle of a very soft bubble. The Cornhuskers have not made the NCAA field since 1998, and have not won a game in their six tournament appearances.
For Texas, the loss was simply a speedbump. Quality teams often lose on the road in college basketball. In fact, the Longhorns’ loss was the third road loss this week by a team ranked in the top five of both major polls. While Texas certainly has big tests ahead in Kansas State and road trips to Colorado and Baylor, if they can recover and once again play up to their potential, they should be just fine.
What looked good
Perhaps the only thing that looked good for the Longhorns yesterday were the first and last few minutes of the game. Texas built an eight-point lead over the first twelve minutes of the game, powered by 47% shooting from the field, including 57% behind the arc. After that, Texas would shoot only 33% from three-point range, and 31.5% from the field.
In the final minutes, Texas refused to quit. Down 11 points with just 2:35 left, the Longhorns took advantage of missed free throws by Nebraska and a terrible job by the towel boys to tie the game just 1:25 later. Jordan Hamilton made three free throws after being fouled on an attempt in the corner, then added a three from the wing after Jorge Brian Diaz missed a pair of free throws for the Huskers.
Following a made free throw by Houston product Toney McCray, Texas then scored six straight points to force the tie. During that run, a Nebraska player slipped on the inbounds pass, allowing Alexis Wangmene to grab the ball and make two free throws after he was fouled inside. That was the end of the Longhorn rally, though, as Brandon Richardson made a pair of free throws just 28 seconds later to put Nebraska up for good.
In all honesty, the Longhorns had no business being in the game at that point. They were flat-out whipped during the second half, but showed tenacity in refusing to give up. Texas even had a shot to go ahead with 33 seconds left, and another attempt to tie it at the buzzer. While there was very little to take away from Saturday’s game, fans can at least rest assured that Texas is far more resilient than a year ago, when the team crumbled in the face of any adversity.
What needed work
The most glaring deficiencies for Texas on Saturday afternoon came on the defensive side of the ball. The Longhorn bigs were absolutely abused inside by Diaz and Andre Almeida, who combined to score 21 points. A big part of this was the early foul trouble for Gary Johnson, which forced Matt Hill and Wangmene to play a combined 16 minutes even though they couldn’t contain the Nebraska frontcourt.
With Diaz and Almeida playing so well inside, the Cornhuskers isolated the Texas bigs on the blocks and let their guards go to work. Eight of Nebraska’s 15 second-half baskets came in the form of layups or dunks, as Richardson and Lance Jeter were able to drive to the rack with hardly any resistance, while Diaz and Almeida provided seals on the Longhorn forwards.
All told, the defensive performance by Texas was the worst against Nebraska all season. The only teams who posted poorer defensive efficiency numbers against the Cornhuskers this year were North Dakota, Jackson State, and Arkansas Pine Bluff. To say that the Longhorns are more talented than those three teams would be a gross understatement. The Texas defense that pundits have been raving about for the last two months was nowhere to be found on Saturday.
Another big reason for Nebraska’s success on the offensive end was the fact that Texas could not grab a rebound when it mattered. The Cornhuskers grabbed a whopping 43.3% of their misses in this game, a stat made even more shocking when you consider that they were reclaiming just 28% of their misses in conference play coming into the game.
Connecticut beat Texas on the strength of their offensive rebounding, and Nebraska did the same thing on Saturday. Add in the fact that Texas nearly lost to North Carolina thanks to offensive putbacks, and it’s easy to see what the plan of attack will be for teams playing the Longhorns in the future.
Offensively, the performance by the Texas players was nothing to write home about. Hamilton had a terrible shooting day, making just 3-of-16 from the field. You can give him some credit for making it to the line 11 times to earn points, but it also has to be noted that he only attempted six free throws in the first 38 minutes of the game.
Hamilton put up 11 three-pointers on the afternoon and missed all five of his two-point attempts. Many of those misses were good looks that just weren’t falling, but he needs to recognize when it’s just not his day and then make the effort to attack off the dribble and manufacture points.
In addition, this game underscored early-season concerns about the frontcourt depth. While Hill and Wangmene will never be confused with Johnson, the fact that they had to play extended minutes also hurt the Texas defense in an unexpected way.
The Cornhuskers were packing the lane defensively, a tactic made even more effective because Hill and Wangmene are generally non-threats on the offensive end. The Longhorns simply could not afford to also have Balbay on the floor, because it would leave them with only three scorers. Without Dogus limited to just 15 minutes, the Nebraska guards found it even easier to drive the lane with impunity. In a domino effect, losing a post player to foul trouble actually weakened the perimeter defense.
Next up: vs. Iowa State (14-13 overall, 1-11 Big 12); Tuesday, 7 P.M. CT