Kerwin Roach II knew the night offered a chance for atonement. The entire Texas team did.
After three consecutive losses in conference play where late-game execution escaped the Longhorns and the breaks didn’t fall their way, the senior guard knew what a win against No. 20 Oklahoma in front of an enthusiastic home crowd could offer — an opportunity to show that they still can win monumental games and beat some of the nation’s best.
And on Saturday night, Texas seized advantage of the the moment to snap a three-game skid. Ditching their inability to close out close games against Big 12 opponents, the Longhorns finally managed to push themselves to the winning side in a tight contest, overcoming an Oklahoma lead in the game’s final minutes to capture a significant 75-72 win on Saturday night.
“There were a lot of things we could get down about,” Roach said. “But we been there before, been through a lot of adversity. We’re really tough-minded mentally. We just stayed together, and that just keeps us going.”
While head coach Shaka Smart has emphasized all season the need to finish on a more consistent basis, Texas had gone 3–6 in contests determined by six points or less entering the game against Oklahoma. That included an 0–3 mark through the early part of Big 12 play.
Against its most bitter rival, Texas showed something different than it had in those previous losses. The Longhorns executed down the stretch, finding buckets and getting to the free throw line. Jase Febres drilled a critical three in the corner to give Texas a four-point lead with over 30 seconds to play. Matt Coleman and Jaxson Hayes were each able to convert a free throw at the line in the final seconds in order to widen the gap to three points.
Texas displayed an immense amount of energy, juice, mental toughness and grit — areas the philosophically inclined Smart loves to talk about. But the biggest jump the Longhorns took was actually making the plays they needed to on the offensive end.
“We had been going over a lot of situational things, late game in practice, taking the time to go over that,” forward Dylan Osetkowski said. “Give us kudos for being able to go out there and do it.”
It was the senior tandem of Roach and Osetkowski who helped carry the Longhorns.
Roach, who has battled inconsistency, flashed in a way reminiscent of his performance earlier this season against North Carolina by chipping in 23 points. During the first half, he carried the Longhorns through a dreadful shooting performance with 11 consecutive points. And in the second period, his relentless style of driving to the bucket led to another 10 points and helped the Longhorns immensely in the half-court.
Osetkowski put together his best effort of the season, putting up 15 points and 11 rebounds. More importantly, he neutralized Oklahoma’s inside presence and even outplayed the Sooners’ big men, a main point of emphasis by Smart entering the night.
Getting that type of production from his two senior leaders was pivotal, Smart said, and what he hopes is a sign of things to come.
“That’s what you want from your senior leaders,” Smart said. “Those guys, they stuck with it. That’s the biggest thing you want from seniors is leading the team in terms of, ‘This is who we’re gonna be. We’re tough. We’re aggressive. The moment’s not too big for us.’ And I think both guys played that way tonight.”
After losses by Texas Tech and Kansas on Saturday, now the Longhorns find themselves only one game back from the Big 12 lead. And in a league defined by parity, the Longhorns can assert themselves in the conference title picture. The key now is not overlooking any single upcoming opponent and maintaining the energy and toughness the Longhorns employed on Saturday.
“In this conference, you play 18 regular season games,” Smart said. “Your goal is to obviously get better and better over the course of the conference season, but you cannot look past your next conference game. We’ve learned from one of our six games, you better have high-level energy.”