Loss to TCU sinks Texas' hopes of playing for Big 12 championship

Photo of Nick Moyle

FORT WORTH — Earlier this week, before Texas bussed up I-35 for Wednesday night’s clash with No. 22 TCU, interim coach Texas Rodney Terry spoke about the significance of the calendar flipping from February to March.

“February was separation month for us,” Terry said. “March is going to be about finishing. You have to finish halves, you have to finish your cuts, you have to finish possessions. And the teams that embrace that, they get a chance to advance deep into March. We're at that juncture of the season right now.”

The ninth-ranked Longhorns had managed to separate and claw their way near the top of the Big 12 standings during those previous 28 days. And by sweeping its season series with TCU for the fourth straight season, Texas would set itself up to play for a share of the Big 12 championship in Saturday’s regular-season finale against first-place Kansas.

Getting into that position was an impressive feat considering the depth of the conference, not to mention the fact that second-year coach Chris Beard was only around for eight games before Texas fired him.

But these Longhorns, authors of three separate double-digit comebacks since Terry took charge Dec. 11, couldn’t finish off what would have been the biggest win and most monumental rally of the year, one that would have positioned them for a shot at their first conference title since 2008.

TCU  led from start to finish in its 75-73 win over Texas at Schollmaier Arena on Wednesday night, its victory also sealing an outright Big 12 championship for No. 3 Kansas. And if one were to take a quick glance at the box score, they’d probably wonder at how exactly the Longhorns were even able to come that close.

The Horned Frogs (20-10, 9-8 Big 12) outrebounded Texas 23-8 in the first half and 46-28 for the game. They outpaced the Longhorns (22-8, 11-6) in second-chance points (16-10), points in the paint (36-26) and field goal percentage (.464 to .391). Texas’ leading scorer Marcus Carr mustered just 10 points on 16 shots, while ultra-reliable sixth man Sir’Jabari Rice netted 16 points on 16 shots.

Their counterparts fared better. TCU senior guard Damian Baugh sizzled with 24 points, nine rebounds and five rebounds. Senior forward Emmanuel Miller inhaled rebounds (10 total, four offensive) and lived at the rim, finishing with 20 points in 31 minutes. Their scoring contributions helped offset the rare off night for leading scorer Mike Miles Jr., who finished with a season-low 1 point on 0-for-8 shooting.

"It’s disappointing, especially for the seniors,” Texas fifth-year forward Timmy Allen said.

As for the reasons behind the Longhorns’ sluggish first half, which put them into a 12-point halftime hole, Allen said “it’s a mindset, I think it’s coming out and being the aggressor and responding when it’s not going our way. You’ve got to be able to talk and work through that.”

Texas finally puffed its chest out and asserted itself in the second half.

Fifth-year forward Christian Bishop and senior big Dylan Disu blocked shots and boxed out. The Texas guards used full-court pressure to pester TCU into a slew of turnovers — the Longhorns scored 27 points off 22 TCU giveaways — to narrow a 14-point deficit to just three with 62 seconds left after sophomore guard Tyrese Hunter (15 points) buried an open 3-pointer from the wing.

But as Terry alluded to before, March is about finishing. And while Texas generated the stop it wanted, it didn’t track down the final rebound it so desperately needed.

When Miles’ layup rattled off the rim with 27 seconds left, redshirt senior forward Chuck O’Bannon chased down TCU’s 15th and final offensive rebound. Texas sent Baugh to the foul line six seconds later, and he hit both to put the Horned Frogs up five.  

TCU answered a quick Texas layup with a run-out dunk by Miller to ice the game. And after Rice’s meaningless last-second 3 fell through the net, a flood of fans rushed onto the court to bask in the Longhorns’ misery.

“We (still) have a big opportunity,” Allen said. “We have a lot to play for. Obviously, we want to cut down every net we can. But it’s March, you can’t overreact. You gotta stay poised, stay focused and stay where your feet are. But it’s nothing we can’t fix. I have full confidence. And we want to go out on the right foot on our home court — that’s the mindset.”