AUSTIN — The game was filled with big shots and thrilling moments.
Texas won by making the most important play of all.
Jonathan Holmes drained a corner three-pointer as time expired to lift the Longhorns to a 67-64 victory over No. 22 Kansas State on Tuesday night at the Erwin Center. Less than two seconds remained when the junior forward caught an inbounds pass, turned and lobbed a perfect shot over the outstretched arm of Thomas Gipson.
The buzzer-beater was an appropriate end to a back-and-forth battle. Texas led 36-32 at halftime. K-State led 58-55 with less than five minutes to go. And the score was tied at 64-64 with 1.9 seconds on the clock.
The Longhorns simply closed it, while K-State didn’t.
“We just didn’t make enough plays when it counted,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “To win on the road in this league, you are going to have to be extra special. You are going to have to do all your stuff well. I don’t think we did everything well.… You figured sooner or later they were going to grab the game, which ended up happening.”
That pessimistic mindset came as a bit of a surprise, considering the Wildcats (14-5, 4-2 Big 12) have won their share of close games this season.
This month alone, they held off Oklahoma State by three and beat Oklahoma by six. Both of those teams are ranked. The Longhorns (15-4, 4-2) are not, though they might be soon now that they have beaten top 25 teams in back-to-back games.
“We are capable of beating any team we play,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “… This team has shown character, and they have done that from Day 1.”
The difference on this night: K-State failed to capitalize when Texas came out cold in the second half. Though the Wildcats pulled ahead 52-49 while the Longhorns made 6 of 21 shots, they couldn’t add to the lead. Texas was low on confidence, and had the look of a stressed team. K-State had clamped down on the transition baskets Texas relied on the first half, and UT big man Cameron Ridley was in foul trouble.
Everything about the situation favored the Wildcats, yet it was the Longhorns who led throughout the final moments.
Gipson, who scored a game-high 24 points and played marvelously otherwise, missed important layups. So did Jevon Thomas. Shane Southwell couldn’t make a pair of late free throws and freshman Marcus Foster, the team’s leading scorer, was held to eight points.
And no one could stop Texas guard Javan Felix, who made floaters and driving layups on his way to 23 points. Alongside Ridley, who had 18 points and six rebounds, and Holmes, who had eight points and 10 rebounds, the Longhorns had more weapons.
“When you go on the road and you have a chance to grab a game, that’s when you have to break their spirit,” Weber said. “We didn’t.”
Added Gipson: “It all started on defense. We were all about fouls. When we really needed it and we needed to pull away, we couldn’t. It was tough at the end … I feel like Ridley and Felix did a great job of scoring and keeping them in the game. Our defense is normally great and we rely on our defense. Tonight it just wasn’t there.”
Texas shot 45.6 percent from the field and 25 percent from three. It also scored well below the 78.3 points it was averaging.
But Weber found errors in almost every area.
“There were a couple plays where they just swung the ball and drove and we didn’t have weak-side help,” Weber said. “We always have weak-side help. Those are things you have got to do. We went too far, weren’t patient, we tried to shoot too quickly and hopefully we will learn from that.”
Of course, his biggest critique was that Texas ran a game-winning play to perfection – twice. With 3.9 seconds remaining, Barnes drew up a play that was supposed to go to Holmes under the basket. The Longhorns executed the play well, only Isaiah Taylor didn’t see Holmes and passed the ball to DeMarcus Holland, who froze at the top of the key.
Two seconds ran off the clock, and Texas called another timeout. Barnes told his team to run the same play. This time Holmes got open behind the three-point line, and he won the game.
“They had us on the first timeout,” Weber said.
“I just slipped to the ball and I was open,” Holmes said, “and I made the shot.”
Afterward, K-State players seemed more interested in how they will respond from this loss than how it occurred. The Wildcats responded to a 2-3 start with 10 straight victories. Then they followed a setback at Kansas with back-to-back wins.
Bouncing back again won’t be so easy with a trip to No. 16 Iowa State up next on Saturday.
But a last-second loss makes like this one makes that game even more important.
“It’s tough for everybody,” Gipson said. “Two away games at the same time is pretty hard, but we just have to stick together and put this loss behind us and continue to move forward.”