The first half certainly looked promising for the Texas Longhorns.
Rick Barnes' entire team was working hard and shots were falling, but basketball is a 40-minute game and in the final homestretch, a combination of terrible rebounding, a stymied offense and poor free throw shooting was a recipe for disaster as the Longhorns did something on Friday night that they haven't done in a decade - they lost to Baylor.
In the process of dropping a 76-70 decision to the Bears, Texas' dreams of advancing to the Big Tournament final went up in smoke, as did the chances of boosting their NCAA Tournament stock.
Big Dexter Pittman was not able to put up the same outstanding numbers for a third straight game, and the other Longhorns could not get it done without his production in the paint.
This type of game was nothing new to Texas fans this season, as the Longhorns again gabbed control in the first half, only to lose it in the second half. Texas hit four of their first five shots to start the game, and the team looked like it would be unstoppable with Pittman in the paint and Abrams getting open to drain shots from outside. The Texas senior guard had eight points in the first five minutes, and Pittman was playing with a ton of confidence, going right at Baylor's Josh Lomers under the basket.
The Texas defense was also playing well as it held Curtis Jerrells off the stat sheet through the first 18 minutes. Pittman, Connor Atchley and Clint Chapman did an excellent job of sealing off the inside to shut down the Baylor driving lanes.
The Horns were up 37-25 with two minutes left in the first half, but the sloppy play picked up, as Texas committed two turnovers and missed three easy shots, while allowing the Bears to cut the lead to 39-33 at halftime.
The momentum heading into the second half was all on Baylor's side, and the Bears took advantage. Tweety Carter and Henry Dugat put in two three-pointer's and then Dugat picked up a three-point play under the basket to give Baylor a 46-45 lead with 15:43 on the clock.
The remainder of the game saw four more lead changes, as neither team could put a lead of more than two points together in the last few minutes of the game.
With 3:08 left and the game tied at 61-61, UT freshman guard Varez Ward pulled down a great offensive rebound and went up strong to get the basket and put the Horns up 63-61. Ward then hit both free throws to put the Horns up 65-61 with 2:38 left in the contest.
Unfortunately, for the Horns, the game didn't end then. A few Baylor free throws and a three-pointer from Lacedarius Dunn put Baylor on top 67-65 at the 1:13 mark, and the Longhorns never recovered.
Abrams was able to score two more baskets to put Texas within two, but more missed shots and turnovers in the last minute of the game sealed the deal for the Bears.
Inside the Numbers
The Longhorns didn't just lose the rebound battle, they flat out got dominated on the glass. The actual numbers do not show how one-sided the rebounding was, as Baylor grabbed 29 to Texas' 26. With Pittman on the bench in foul trouble for much of the second half, Baylor picked up eight offensive rebounds to create second chance points and that killed the Horns down the stretch.
Texas could have one this game easily if it weren't for a very poor performance from the foul line. Texas shot just 66.7 percent from the line (12-18) while Baylor connected on 86.4 percent (19-22). It was surprising to see Pittman struggle from the line (1-5) after being so good for most of the season.
Star of the Game
Abrams finally had a good shooting performance, and he kept the Horns in the game until the final minute. He ended the game with 20 points and three assists, and continued his unselfish play by getting the ball to his teammates whenever possible.
Ward played well for the second straight game and provided the team with a big boost of the bench. He was aggressive whenever he had the ball, and drove to the basket to pick up points at several key moments of the game. He finished with seven points, two rebounds, an assist, and a monster block on Tweety Carter that turned into two Texas points on the other end.
Tough Day at the Office
After two incredible performances, Pittman could not find his rhythm against the Bears. He looked good with a few baskets inside in the first half, but from that point on, Pittman got into foul trouble and could not get the ball into the basket.
He was only one of five from the free throw line, and he turned the ball over three times. Pittman was double-teamed for much of the game and was only able to attempt five shots. Credit should be given to the Baylor defense, but Texas took too many outside shots and failed to get the ball inside to Dexter as the game wore on.
Gary Johnson played well off the bench, picking up 10 points and he was perfect on his free throws, making all four. Johnson did shoot the ball in certain situations when he definitely could have gotten the ball inside, but overall his performance on both ends was productive.
Connor Atchley is just not the same player he was a year ago. He makes a few positive plays per game, but his mistakes stick out like a sore thumb in games like these. Atchley got beat repeatedly by Baylor's Kevin Rogers, who finished with 20 points and five rebounds, and he just looked lost at times. Atchley ended the game with five points, three rebounds, and a block.
Top Three Plays of the Game
Bronze - With 19 seconds left in the game, A.J. Abrams put up an extremely long three point jumper and sank it to put Texas back within two.
Silver - Varez Ward had a beautiful drive to the basket to score the bucket and a foul with 4:29 left in the game to put the Longhorns up 61-59.
Gold - With 7:47 on the clock in the second half, Ward came up with a huge block on Tweety Carter that sent Abrams down the floor for a great dish off to Harrison Smith under the basket who put in the lay up. The play put Texas on top 57-55.
Dunks in the Kansas State game:
Clint Chapman - 1
Dunks for the season:
Damion James - 42
Dexter Pittman - 40
Gary Johnson - 8
Justin Mason - 7
Connor Atchley - 7
Clint Chapman - 6
Varez Ward - 1
Alexis Wangmene - 1
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