By Steve Habel, Senior Contributing Writer
AUSTIN, Texas — As the calendar changes to the winter break, Texas and Providence might not be heavyweights in the college basketball world , but neither is shy about jumping in the ring, as evidenced by the Friars’ gritty 71-65 win Friday over the shorthanded Longhorns before an announced crowd of 8,610 at the Frank Erwin Center.
The Longhorns, playing without leading scorer Kerwin Roach, II, who had a stomach illness, fell behind big in the first half and made run after run at Providence but could never get over the hump.
Guard Apollo Diallo scored 20 points and Isaiah Jackson added 12 and a big steal late in the game as Providence outlasted Texas to win its third straight game.
The Friars led, 64-62, with 2:10 to play after a driving layup by the Longhorns’ Elijah Mitrou-Long capped a 5-0 Texas run. Diallo hit one of two free throws before UT's Matt Coleman III and Jase Febres missed three-pointers on back-to-back trips down the floor that could have tied the game.
“Against man and zone (defenses), they were pushing our ball screens to the side, but later we were getting in the lane ... (but) even then we were a little tentative,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “Sometimes we got a little impatient, especially some of our younger guys.”
Nate Watson added a layup with 32 seconds to play, and Jackson stole the ball on the Longhorns’ ensuing possession before Diallo canned a four free throws late to clinch the win.
Maliek White added 9 points for the Friars (10-3). All nine players who saw the court for the Friars had at least 4 points.
Jaxson Hayes and Coleman led Texas with 13 points each, with Dylan Osetkowski scoring 12 and Courtney Ramey adding 10 for the Longhorns (7-4), who had a two-game winning streak snapped.
The Longhorns missed numerous shots at close range, especially early in the game, and were just 13-of-23 from the free throw line.
“It’s about the process, and getting our guys to follow the process better,” Smart said. “We had a smaller margin of error for that tonight because Roach didn’t play, but we still had our chances to win this game.”
Coleman said the focus on the team now is to stay connected and not “listen to the poison and the outside noise," he said. "Our character is very high.
“We had a lot or turnovers and that killed us. When we got it going, things were good for us, but we have to be consistent. Roach was missed, but as a unit we are capable to getting the job done.”
Providence roared out of the gate to a 6-0 lead and was up, 11-2, after a three-pointer by White at the 14:37 mark of the first half.
“Texas was a little out of sync without Roach, and it showed,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “Two tough teams played out there tonight, and both played with conviction and purpose. We had a lot of quiet heroes out there, and we had some balls bounce our way and some luck, which is what you have to have to win on the road.”
The Longhrosn slowly cut into that lead over the next four-and-a-half minutes, and tied the game at 15-15 with a three-pointer by Ramey with 10:10 to play in the half.
The Friars responded with a 12-4 run, capped by back-to-back three-pointers by Jackson, and eventually rebuilt their lead to 13 points, at 35-22, on a pair of free throws by Diallo with 3:37 to play in the half. Texas finished the half on a 13-4 run to cut the lead to 39-35 at intermission.
Providence pumped its lead back up to 10 points early in the second half before the Longhorns rallied again, closing to within 51-50 on Coleman’s 3-pointer with 11:53 to play.
In a game that needed wall-to-wall toughness and a calm head in the line of fire, Smart said his team missed Roach.
“Obviously he’s a big factor on our team,” Smart said about Roach. “He got sick a couple of days ago, and he wanted to play but he couldn’t muster the energy he needed to be out there.”
The Longhorns return to the floor Dec. 28 when they host Texas-Arlington in the final game of a six-game homestand.