AUSTIN, Texas — An offense led by guards Andrew Jones and Matt Coleman combined for 34 points and one of the stingiest defensive performances of the season led the No. 13/13 Texas men’s basketball team to a 70-55 win over visiting TCU Saturday at the Frank Erwin Center.
The Longhorns’ second victory in a row boosted their season record to 13-5 overall and 7-4 in games against Big 12 opponents; TCU fell to 11-8 overall, and 4-6 in conference games.
Despite going 0-for-4 from three-point range, Jones led all scorers with 19 points, and Coleman added 15. Forward Greg Brown continued his hot long-range shooting, connecting on all three of his shots from behind the three-point line, en route to 13 points, and fellow forward Jericho Sims added 11.
Texas head coach Shaka Smart said after the game that while he was pleased with his team’s offensive performance, the game was decided at the defensive end of the floor.
“It’s something that hopefully guys can put in their pocket, and have as an experience, and say, ‘you know what? When we do that, we’re able to win by 15, even though we didn’t shoot the ball well from three, even though we didn’t start the game great in terms of taking care of the ball,” Smat said. “It gives you more of a margin for error when you defend like that.
UT took a 37-29 lead into the locker room at halftime, thanks in part to a 9-0 run fueled largely by a focused defensive effort against TCU guards R.J. Nembhard, who led the Horned Frogs with 15 points, and Mike Miles, who added 10, only two of which came after the intermission.
“I think that stretch and also Miles, had a couple buckets in a row and was kind of getting going in the second half, and I think both of those times, our guys kind of took it upon themselves” to tighten up defensively, Smart said. “I thought Courtney (Ramey) was really, really good in the defensive end, Matt (Coleman) — those guys have to spearhead our defense. And then Jericho (Sims) was much better at impacting the pick-and-roll ‘D’ with aggressiveness than he has been the last couple of games, and that made a big difference.”
Sims balanced his double-digit scoring with physical defense and a game-high eight rebounds. His performance was part of the reason that Coleman agreed with Smart’s assessment was one of UT’s better games of the season.
“We played well on both ends,” Coleman said. “Defensively, we had our nine ‘kills,’ 32 deflections, and we did a great job of guarding their guards, R.J. Nembhard and Mike Miles, and I think Jericho — he played violent, he set the tone early for us, and we were able to feed off of him.”
When Sims matched up with Brown and forward Kai Jones to give the Longhorns a versatile, athletic lineup that Smart said can affect a game in numerous ways.
“I thought the lineup with Greg, Kai and Jericho in together was really effective on the defensive end for us,” Smart said. “I’ve been telling those guys all year, ‘if you play together, you have to impact the game athletically, and with your length,’ and I thought they did a good job of that today.”
The victory was the Longhorns’ second straight — UT won, 80-77, Tuesday at Kansas State — after losing four of five games, and Smart said his team’s performance against TCU was an indication of a trend in the right direction.
“I think this game was much better than the Kansas State game,” Smart said. “Again, my bias is always towards the collective spirit of the team. That spirit is created by the individual members of the team, and … again, I felt like today, for the first time in quite a while, that was kind of where we wanted to be.”
Smart said he has seen an improvement in his team in recent games and in practice, a shift in energy and selflessness and pure enjoyment of the game, which he said has translated in to better performances on the court.
“This is the thing,” Smart said. “If our team, over the next seven weeks, is willing to lose ourselves in the fight, and that means let go of any type of self-interests, all the noise and all the chatter, all the ‘what about me?’ and just truly, truly lose ourselves in each other, and the competition of what we’re trying to do, then we can max out, and we can be the best we can be, and we can really get an opportunity to see … OK, how good can we be against these phenomenal teams, both in our league and not in our league?
“But if we don’t do that, then we won’t. If it was easy, I’d snap my fingers and make that happen, but … 90 percent of my emphasis, believe it or not, is in that area.”
The Longhorns will pursue their third consecutive victory Tuesday in Norman, Okla., in an 8 p.m. game against the Sooners that will be carried on ESPN. Oklahoma beat Texas, 80-79, Jan. 26 in Austin.