KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Senior guard Matt Coleman hit a pair of free throws with 1.8 seconds left en route to a game-high 19 points, leading the No. 13 Texas men’s basketball team to a 67-66 win over No. 20 Texas Tech in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship quarterfinals at the T-Mobile Center.
“It’s always a war against those guys,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said after the game. “You know, I take my hat off to Tech. They were at a high level with their aggressiveness and toughness, the way they battled and offensive-rebounded. They turned us over 20 times … Impressive game by them.
“We struggled for a lot of the game, but I thought the way that our guys fought back from deficits in both halves showed a lot of resolve.”
The Longhorns (18-7) advance to face Kansas at 7:30 Friday night in the Big 12 semifinal.
“We need to quickly turn the page,” Smart said. “Obviously, got a great (Kansas) team coming up tomorrow.”
Thursday’s victory was UT’s first in three games this season against the Red Raiders.
Coleman came through when it counted most: with 1:48 remaining, he found forward Kai Jones streaking in from the corner, setting up Jones’ up-and-under reverse lay-up that trimmed Tech’s lead to 66-63. Then, with 59 seconds left, Coleman outran the Tech defense to the baseline and banked in an awkward layup from a sharp angle to pull the Longhorns to within a point. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, he drove the lane, drawing triple coverage but also the foul that set up his tying and winning free throws.
After the game, Texas Tech head coach said the Longhorns won the game based on what decides many games played at this time of year.
“I really thought the tougher team was going to win tonight, and I thought Texas was the tougher team in the parts of the game that mattered most,” Beard said. “I think Texas Tech was the tougher team during spurts of the game, but when it gets down to the last four or five minutes, classic March, Texas Tech-Texas game. We've been in three battles with these guys. We won two. They won one, this year, and this one stings because it's in the postseason.”
It was ironic that the Longhorns won the game at the charity stripe, considering they converted six of eight attempts in the game; the Red Raiders hit 12 of 20.
“Another thing is just undeniable and that's free-throw shooting,” Beard said. “You're not going to make every free throw, but if you want to have success in March Madness, you've got to make a certain percentage, and then your best players have to step up there and make free throws.”
Smart agreed with Beard’s assessment that the game reflected the blueprint of so many other matchups between the Longhorns and Red Raiders.
“When you play Tech … at least when we play Tech, it’s always a war, and sometimes it’s not the prettiest game,” Smart said. “Sometimes, it’s a game of attrition to some extent. Even when we got down 10, in both halves, it certainly felt doable, that we could come back.
“The biggest thing that went in to winning was just the guys believing and staying together, and then the next-biggest thing was actually getting stops. There was one point where (Tech) scored eight consecutive times in the second half, and we had a timeout, and I said ‘Guys, we can’t win that way. They can’t score that many times in a row — we have to stop them’ … and down the stretch, we were able to do that. That’s why we won.”
Smart has watched Coleman develop since his freshman year, and the two have forged a strong relationship on and off the court.
“The biggest thing … is I trust him, you know, and I think he trusts me,” Smart said. “You know, in any relationship, that’s a very, very important component. I love seeing him play with great confidence.
“When I first met Matt, he was in eighth grade, and you would have thought this guy is the best player in the world, with the confidence that he has … sometimes we’re on him about having more urgency. But the flip side is, he’s cool as a cucumber when pressure comes, and that’s kind of the give-and-take. I had no doubt he was making those free throws, and obviously the way he played was huge for our team.”
Coleman led five Longhorns who scored in double figures. Guard Jase Febres, playing in just his 10th (of 24) games this season after recovering from an injury that ended last season prematurely, poured in 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting from behind the three-point arc. Guard Andrew Jones had an off night as far as shooting (3 of 11) but still scored 11 points, and Sims and Kai Jones added 10 points apiece.
If the game was a celebration of Coleman’s poise and leadership, it was a particularly frustrating evening for freshman forward Greg Brown, who scored two points in 13 minutes. In the second half, he appeared to be emotional as he left the court and retreated to the locker room. He returned a few minutes later, sitting at the end of the back row of the bench, and never returned to the court. Kai Jones racked up 27 minutes, and when Jericho Sims needed a breather, Smart called upon little-used Royce Hamm.
“Well, I haven’t talked to [Brown] since the end of the game,” Smart said. “You know, I think the first thing is having a passion and excitement, all of our guys, for winning. That was a heck of a win — it wasn’t easy. Secondly, Greg’s a guy we really value and appreciate. But I think for all of our guys, really, really taking ownership of how to play well, and how to help your team on both ends of the floor is huge. Obviously that’s toughest when you’re in your first year. So we’ve got to help him with that, we’ve got to help him understand he’s not on an island — we love him, care about him. Tonight, as a team, we turned the ball over too much, and we’ve got to do a better job with that.
“We’ll spend time together, tonight and tomorrow, and try to get right for tomorrow.”
Texas swept two games from the Jayhawks during the regular season. Friday’s semifinal matchup is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 and will be carried on ESPN2.