INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — This was not the way anyone saw the Texas men’s basketball team ending its season. While winning the Phillips 66 Big 12 championship, the Longhorns showed a swagger and confidence that had many predicting a lengthy run in the NCAA Tournament.
Instead, the Horns’ season came to a screeching halt Saturday when UT was upset, 53-52, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Abilene Christian.
“Tears in the locker room right now,” Texas men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart said when asked about the emotions in the UT locker room. “A lot of guys extremely upset about the way the game ended, the fact that we have to go home now. Really disappointed — everybody is.”
Smart made his comments to the media moments after watching ACU’s Joe Pleasant drain a couple of free throws with 1.2 left and then steal a pass on the game’s final play to lead the Wildcats to improbable upset.
UT finishes its season with a 19-8 record, while Abilene Christian is 24-4. After knocking off the No. 3 seed Longhorns, No. 14 seed ACU will advance to play UCLA in the tournament’s second round.
The Horns were able to do several things that normally would be viewed as factors that were key components in a victory. They led by nine points, 32-23, in the second half; had six more assists than the Wildcats; and limited ACU to 29.9 percent field goal shooting, including 16.7 percent from behind the three-point line … and still lost.
UT guard Andrew Jones led all scorers, including three Longhorns who scored in double figures, with 13 points, including a three-pointer that gave Texas a 52-51 lead with 15 seconds remaining. Forwards Kai Jones and Jericho Sims had 11 and 10 points, respectively.
The Wildcats outrebounded the Longhorns, 36-31. Within those three-dozen ACU boards were 18 on the offensive end.
“A big, big key to this game was they got 18 offensive rebounds, including a big one late in the game,” Smart said. “That was a huge difference.”
The Wildcats entered the game leading the nation in turnovers forced, and showed Saturday that those numbers were no fluke, or inflated because of a difference in competition. Against UT, Abilene Christian forced 23 turnovers, while committing just 11 of its own.
“I think a lot of it was their defense,” Smart said. “They lead the country in forcing turnovers — they force over 20 a game. We certainly could have done a better job being sound with the ball, particularly our guards — between our three guards, we had 15 — but they deserve a ton of credit for the way they force turnovers … Normally, we’re able to play with really good poise, and tonight, again, Abilene Christian deserves a lot of credit for the way they got their hands on the basketball.
No decision for Coleman
Guard Matt Coleman, UT’s leader through the Big 12 tournament and for much of the season, was asked if he had decided whether he plans to return for another season, but then sounded as if maybe he has, in fact, reached the finish line in his college career.
“I’ve made no decision,” he said. “My focus is on my guys and what just happened, unfortunately. I enjoyed every second of every minute of it. It damn-sure didn’t end the way I wanted it to end.”