Texas Goes Down in Stillwater

AP Photo/Brody Schmidt

The #24 Texas Longhorns entered Saturday needing one more conference win to feel secure about an 11th straight NCAA Tournament bid. After yesterday's 68-59 loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys, the Longhorns have two chances remaining with Baylor in Austin on Monday or at Kansas on Saturday.

The #24 Texas Longhorns struggled mightily on the offensive end on Saturday even to the lengths that haven't been seen this year. The first half struggles, which included a season low 18 points, ended up being too much to overcome even after Oklahoma State point guard Byron Eaton fouled out with 5:01 remaining in the ballgame.

The Longhorns (19-9, 8-6) did manage to make things interesting after Eaton fouled out trailing 56-49 after playing more than nine minutes down by double digits in the closing minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half.

The Longhorns struggled to cut the Cowboy's lead to less than seven points until the senior point guard went to the bench with a reaching foul near the midcourt stripe.

The fifth foul on Eaton, who finished with two points, seemed to energize the Longhorns as Texas ran off six quick points to close within 56-55. The spark came from the usual suspects in Damion James and Dogus Balbay, but also from the most unlikely player as little used Harrison Smith posted career highs in minutes played, points and rebounds.

Smith entered the game with 17:07 remaining and the Longhorns down 38-21. The junior guard hit a three-pointer to get things started and followed with a steal, a score off of an offensive rebound, hit a second three-pointer and continued to score on the offensive glass. In total, Smith scored 12 points, grabbed five rebounds and recorded a steal in the final 17 minutes of the game.

Oklahoma State (19-9, 8-6) always had the answer for the Longhorns on Saturday with the biggest contributions coming from an unlikely hero.

From the opening tip, senior forward Marshall Moses had an impact on the game. Moses scored six early points and was active on the glass the entire game pulling down a career-high 16 rebounds to go with 15 points.

The Cowboys, who won their fifth straight, closed out the game at the free throw line converting 10 of 12 from the foul line in the final 4:26.

Cowboys freshman guard Keiton Page made six free throws in a row to finish the game and close out a Longhorn team that couldn't get a clean look in the closing three minutes of the game.

The Cowboys got a much needed NCAA Tournament resume building win 68-59.

James Anderson led the Cowboys with 16 points and was joined in double figures by Moss with 15, Terrel Harris with 13 and Page with 10.

Damion James led the Longhorns with 18 points and 18 rebounds in a relentless second half effort. Dexter Pittman and Smith added 12 apiece.

The Longhorns played their second straight game without the services of the team's third leading scorer and second leading rebounder, Gary Johnson.

A Look at the Numbers

The Longhorns shot a horrid 31.5% (23-73) overall, 33.3% (6-18) from three and 63.6% (7-11) from the free throw line.

The Cowboys converted 42.6% (23-54) from the floor, 25.0% (3-12) from the three-point line and 76.0% (19-25) from the foul line.

Texas won the battle of the boards 45-42, including 23 offensive.

The Cowboys won the turnover battle 15-14.

The Good

Damion James will show up in the good and bad, but what an effort he put out Saturday. James was relentless on the glass in the second half pulling the Longhorns from a double-digit rebounding deficit. James attacked off the glass, ran the floor, challenged shots and left everything he had on the court. It was a great individual effort.

Harrison Smith had a career-day and will very likely be rewarded with more playing time in the last two Big 12 games. Smith has always been a sneaky offensive rebounder from the guard spot, but has never put together a scoring stretch as he did yesterday.

Dexter Pittman played with good effort in a game that was not suited for his skill set. The Cowboys are built on quickness and fast paced tempo and that will always be a tough match-up for Pittman.

The Bad

The Longhorn's first half was their worst of the season offensively. In what is becoming a negative trend, Dogus Balbay is only allowed to start attacking when things are going bad. With Balbay being the lone creator on the offensive end, the strategy isn't a winning one.

There was a few possession stretch in the first half when Keiton Page was matched up on Balbay. Instead of attacking a true mismatch even with Page sagging off of Balbay, Texas chose to remain status quo and pound the ball going nowhere with Balbay with the hope that A.J. Abrams could create some space against Byron Eaton, who did a very good defensive job in the first half on Abrams.

The result, as has been the case for much of the year, was a team that is easy to defend and creates zero defensive rotation.

Without Gary Johnson, the Longhorn's struggles were much more magnified as their top post scorer and mid-range jump shooter was in street clothes.

A.J. Abrams played another game of 40 minutes without an assist. In the closing minutes, Abrams worked off of the high ball screen with Atchley and was chased by both Cowboy defenders. Never once did Abrams look, realize or have the thought of getting the ball to Atchley for an open look. That has been a three-year trend and has been key in Atchley never getting on track offensively this season.

The number of times Atchley is left all alone when Abrams comes off the ball screen is countless. The number of times Abrams has even looked Atchley's way can be counted on one hand and likely would only need a lone finger or two.

With Dexter Pittman playing 20 minutes per game, that means Texas is not going to be a good defensive team for 20 minutes in man or zone. Pittman is being asked to hedge out on ball screens 30 feet away from the basket. That is going to place the team defense in a very tough spot every time as Pittman is in an impossible spot to recover. It's a situation in which Pittman can't physically do the things he's being asked to do.

With Atchley's minutes down, Texas is minus their lone interior help defender and the best team defender on the roster. Texas isn't going to be a quality defensive team without Atchley on the floor to cover James and others.

Damion James missed a few shots inside of six feet that he has to convert to win a road game like this one. The misses were in key situations when Texas was making their run.

Overall

The Longhorns dropped to 8-6 in Big 12 play and are now back in must win mode on Monday night in Austin against Baylor. Should the Longhorns fail to win on Monday, they will travel to Kansas needing a win to lock up an NCAA Tournament bid. That is a very tall task for a team that has not shown the ability to win on the road in conference play against a quality opponent.

Sitting at 8-6, Texas simply can't afford to finish at 8-8 in Big 12 play. Should they do so, it would be a three game losing streak to end conference play and would leave them very vulnerable to being left out of the NCAA Tournament and for good reason.

Monday night is time for Texas to secure a tournament bid in a game between the two most underachieving teams in the Big 12 this season.

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