Courtney Ramey crouched to his knees on the court in disappointment while Matt Coleman lifted his jersey to his face and shook his head. And as VCU’s entire bench rushed the court in jubilation after the victory, all head coach Shaka Smart could do was walk toward the scorer’s table to digest his third consecutive loss.
Despite having two open three-point attempts in the final minute to take the lead, including one from Coleman at the top of the arc as time expired, the Longhorns were unable to convert down the stretch, dropping a tight 54-53 contest to Smart’s former team.
“We haven’t played with the same confidence and when the games have been close, we haven’t made the big plays we need to make,” Smart said. “It’s not like our guys haven’t tried hard. If a game is close, and a team gets 17 offensive rebounds and you turn the ball over 18 times — it’s tough.”
While Texas outshot VCU 42 to 28 percent from the field and doubled the Rams’ assist total, the Longhorns lost in key areas that cost Smart’s team the game, including total rebounds, turnovers and free throw shooting.
Those troubles began in the opening minutes Wednesday night, as sloppiness and poor offense struck both teams. Texas broke through VCU’s half-court pressure on defense with forward Kamaka Hepa finding the open corner on consecutive possessions, drilling two three-pointers to give the Longhorns a 14-12 lead at the under-12 timeout.
Both teams endured poor offensive stretches while Texas’ defense held the Rams to 26 percent from the field in the first half, and two costly turnovers by the Longhorns in the final two minutes gifted VCU a 32-31 lead at halftime.
After slow offensive play from both sides to start the second half, a shift in the game’s energy finally came with 9:14 remaining. Forward Jaxson Hayes came off the bench and provided an impact with a high-flying dunk and a converted layup through contact. A possession later, forward Dylan Osetkowski energized a quiet Frank Erwin Center when he soared over a defender to put back a layup attempt, giving Texas a 49-45 lead.
But the Longhorns’ energy ignited a response from VCU, using a poor offensive stretch from Texas to compile a 7-0 run, capped by a three from forward Sean Mobley to claim a 52-49 lead.
Sims closed the gap for the Longhorns a minute later, sinking a nifty hook from inside the free throw line to cut the deficit to one. VCU guard Issac Vann, however, converted a pair of free throws at the other end to regain a 54-51 lead.
Guard Kerwin Roach II converted a lay up a few moments later. But his basket would be the last one the Longhorns would claim. After guard Courtney Ramey missed an open three-point attempt with 40 seconds left, Matt Coleman had one final opportunity to clinch the game as time expired. But his attempt clanked off the rim, sealing the loss.
“I mean that’s we work on, one more pass,” Coleman said. “(They’re) great shots, we just have to knock them down.”
As the Longhorns met in their locker room, the roars of fans clad in gold and black fans chanting “V-C-U” rang through the tunnels of the Frank Erwin Center. And while one side roared, Texas fans walked out in dejection, left wondering if their fourth-year head coach will find a way to pick up the pieces.
“I feel like Shaka is feeling the pain we’re all feeling,” Roach said. “We all want to win bad, we just have to follow the process. It’s a long journey, it’s a long season both individually and as a team. As a team, we just have to come closer together.”