The Frank Erwin Center crowd of 12,195 was barely interested. Rally towels left on seatbacks for students were hardly used. Fans began trickling away with just under five minutes remaining as Baylor led by 17.
Jerseys for seniors Shaquille Cleare, Kendal Yancy and Mareik Isom were hung in the rafters for Senior Day. But what transpired 100 feet below was just another reminder of how far south things have gone for the program they’re leaving behind.
A 75-64 loss to No. 11 Baylor on Saturday was the final piece to this head-scratching regular season, which ended on a seven-game losing streak.
“Nobody’s more disappointed about that than me,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “I really, really wanted to win today for our seniors.”
Cleare did not disappoint in his final game at the Erwin Center. He finished with 14 points and a career-high nine rebounds. When Cleare fouled out of the game with 2:25 remaining, he was greeted with a loud standing ovation.
“It was pretty emotional,” Cleare said. “I was trying not to shed a tear.”
It could have been freshman forward Jarrett Allen’s last game at the Erwin Center, too. Allen, who is a projected first-round draft pick in some NBA mock drafts, said afterward he hasn’t decided whether he will return to Texas next season or bolt for the NBA.
“I’m gonna keep my options open,” Allen said. “I really haven’t made a decision right now. I’ll have to talk with my family about it.”
Allen’s 20-point and nine-rebound effort and Cleare’s performance carried Texas for much of the day.
The big-man duo connected on an alley-oop in the early going. Moments later, Allen threw down a posterizing, one-handed slam while getting fouled. He hit the ensuing and-one free throw. Later in the first half, Allen rejected Baylor junior forward Nuni Omot’s dunk attempt in heart-stopping fashion.
But some hot three-point shooting helped the Bears build up a 40-24 lead with just over two minutes left in the first half. Baylor made 6-of-11 from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes and 9-of-20 on the day.
Freshman guard Jacob Young responded with a three pointer on the other end, and Allen knocked down a pair of free throws to help the Longhorns head into the locker room only down 40-29.
Texas opened the second half with a quick 6-0 run to cut the deficit to 40-35, forcing Baylor to call a timeout. It unraveled from there. The Longhorns fell behind by 17 after a dunk from Omot with 5:34 left in the game, which put Baylor up 65-48.
Back-to-back three pointers from Young and freshman guard Andrew Jones helped Texas get within seven at 69-62 with just over a minute remaining.
With any postseason hopes likely in doubt, Texas (10-21, 4-14 Big 12) can extend its season beginning Wednesday at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Mo. The Longhorns will head to Kansas City as the No. 10 seed, dead-last in the Big 12 standings, and will play No. 7 seed Texas Tech.
Texas’ only hope of making the NCAA tournament rests in winning it all in Kansas City.
“I still believe,” Cleare said. “This is March. This is where all the madness happens.”