WACO — The entire Texas team walked to its locker room in disbelief. Some had tears in their eyes, other had sullen faces. After 45 dizzying minutes of basketball, there was one thought on every Texas players’ mind: How did that happen?
Despite playing without its two seniors in Dylan Osetkowski and Kerwin Roach II, Texas built a 19-point lead against Baylor by playing a brand of basketball it has strived for all season. But in the final 10 minutes and in overtime, the Longhorns saw it all slip away, losing 84-83 to Baylor.
“It’s just a heartbreaker,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “Baylor deserves a lot of credit for the way they battled back.”
For 30 minutes, the Longhorns looked invincible. They moved the ball well, played aggressively on offense and locked down the Bears on defense. The guards were outstanding too, with Jase Febres and Courtney Ramey putting on their strongest games of the entire season.
No moment showed this better than a run in the final seven minutes of the first half when the only noise inside the arena was coming from the Texas bench as the Longhorns went on a 11-0 run that switched the entire tide of the game before halftime.
“I think we did a great job of attacking and getting our shooters great shots (in the first half),” said Ramey, who had 15 first-half points. “My teammates just did a good job of putting me in a position to go out and attack and be myself.”
After the break, Texas answered every time Baylor appeared to be gaining traction. The Bears hit a 3-pointer at the 16:59 mark, and the crowd finally rose to its feet. But Febres answered with a three shortly after.
When the Bears went on a 6-0 run nearly midway through the second half, guard Matt Coleman III responded with a three of his own after Smart called a timeout. It seemed Texas was on track to answer the bell every time.
But the Longhorns unfolded at the nine-minute mark. Baylor went scorching hot from behind the arc and corralled offensive rebounds, picking up 11 boards on the offensive glass and hitting six 3-pointers to erase the Longhorns’ lead.
“The biggest obvious factor in the second half was the way they offensive rebounded,” Smart said. “We did a good job in the first half, but we were not able to grab hold of some of those balls and Baylor did a good job of making us pay.”
The Bears forced overtime, but Texas still looked primed to eek out a victory. A Kamaka Hepa three pushed the Longhorns to a six-point lead with 1:45 left in the game.
But then the Baylor crowd rose to its feet and watched a familiar theme the Longhorns have displayed all season — falling short in close games.
The Bears closed the gap with a three and an easy layup before forcing a traveling violation after the Longhorns had the ball with seven seconds left. Baylor’s Mario Kegler forced a foul on a drive to the basket and sunk two free throws that proved to be the game-winners after a last-second three from Febres went long.
This one, indeed, meant a little bit more. Smart moved up and down the sideline throughout the game to pump his team, and the Texas players ran with energy and aggression they haven’t shown before. It’s tough for a Longhorn team playing with tournament aspirations.
“That one hurts,” forward Jaxson Hayes said. “I mean just knowing that all of our guys gave everything we had. That one was a crusher.”