Kerwin Roach II found himself in a familiar position.
In 17 games last season, the senior guard and the Longhorns had competed in close games that went to the final minute.
So with the Longhorns needing a basket in the final seconds, they turned to their leader who had prepared for this moment before. Following an Arkansas’ missed free throw with ten seconds left, Roach called for the ball. He dribbled up the court, juked a defender to his left just past the half-court line and rolled to his right off a pick set by forward Jericho Sims. He gathered himself just a few feet behind the three point arc and launched a shot into the air.
With one second left, the ball swished through the net, sending the Longhorns to overtime, where they escaped Arkansas to prevail in a 73-71 victory at Fort Bliss in El Paso.
“I’m trying to go to overtime, so it was in my mind the whole time,” Roach said. “It was something I had practiced on too, late game situations. And coach (Shaka Smart) did a good job everytime in practice just putting the ball in my hands.”
It was a welcomed victory for the Longhorns, who struggled on the offensive end throughout much of the second half. On three separate occasions in the second period, Texas failed to score a basket for nearly two minutes.
During a timeout, Smart warned his players that they needed to relax on that end of the floor.
“So many of those guys were putting pressure on themselves,” Smart said. “But I told them, ‘Just follow the process and shoot the ball the right way.’ I think for us it’s a great learning experience, but we can take some things from that and get better.”
The Longhorns led the game for most of the evening. After falling behind in the opening minutes, the Texas offense finally found an open, free-flowing style it lacked in its opening night victory against Eastern Illinois.
That style paid off five minutes into the game. Finding quality looks through excellent passing, the Longhorns drilled four three-pointers in the span of three minutes to ignite a 22-2 run that allowed them to claim a 27-15 lead. And although the offense stagnated in the final minutes, Texas took a 36-30 lead going into the locker room at half.
But sloppy passing, turnovers and poor shooting characterized the Longhorns for the entire second half, which forced their lead to evaporate with 8:53 left after Arkansas freshman Isaiah Joe made his fourth three pointer of the evening to take a 49-47 lead.
Texas managed to string together enough points down the stretch to keep the game close. Forward Dylan Osetkowski converted one of two free throws with 11 seconds left in the game to cut the Razorbacks’ lead to two, which allowed Roach to make the three point shot to tie the game two possessions later.
In overtime, it was the freshmen tandem of Courtney Ramey and Jaxson Hayes who hit a pair of clutch shots that helped Texas win. Both of their scores allowed the Longhorns to reclaim one-point leads.
And on a night where Texas could have let the game slip away, the fact Smart’s team was able to find a way to win was the most significant part for the fourth-year head coach.
“Early in the year you have to find a way to win games like this,” Smart said. “We have a lot of stuff to work on, but I’m just glad that our guys were able to fight and find a way to win the game.”