Texas faced off against a formidable Xavier team Sunday afternoon in the second round of the NIT. As the Longhorns were the two-seed and the lowest seed in the matchup, they hosted this game at the Frank Erwin Center. Despite the absence of Jaxson Hayes due to his late season knee injury, a hot Osetkowski and a fresh Kerwin Roach were in the lineup to cause trouble for their opponents. Additionally, the absence of Hayes has meant that Jericho Sims has maintained an increased role.
Early on, the Texas defense had trouble containing Tyrique Jones and Naji Marshall, Xavier’s two top players. Marshall, who received Second-Team All Big East Conference honors, posed a large threat for the Longhorns to guard. Luckily, Texas was successful shooting through most of the game, keeping them within manageable range of the Musketeers. This was led by Kerwin Roach’s strong performance on the night, as his form was similar to that against North Carolina. After his extensive suspension, he has finally found his groove again.
While the scoring offense looked good, the Texas defense struggled heavily in the first half. This created an opportunity for Shaka Smart to change the defensive strategy before halftime, which he accomplished. The adjustment was capitalized by a double-team on Tyrique Jones underneath which forced a crucial turnover for momentum. With a Kerwin Roach floater, Texas had a lead of 8 points before the Longhorns conceded an undeserved layup as time expired to make the halftime score 38-32.
The 6-point lead the Longhorns carried into halftime disappeared almost instantly, showcasing one of the many flaws that Texas had throughout the season. After falling behind by 4 points at 45-41, Texas managed to get out of their funk, and went on an 8-2 run to make the score 49-47.
As the Longhorns continued to garner momentum, Jase Febres was heating up. He helped the team extend their lead to as many as 9 points at 60-51. Just as the Texas pulled away, Marshall and Jones led the narrowing of the Texas margin. They helped Xavier cut the lead to 2 points at 61-59. This tight scoreline continued until the end of the second half. With every shot the Musketeers converted, Texas responded with a shot from Sims or Roach. Within the last minute of the game, Texas had a 3 point lead. But after a shot by Xavier and a miss by Febres, Xavier trailed by just 1 point with the shot clock off. With 2.7 seconds left, Roach committed a foul, but to his luck, the second one free throw was missed. After a critical block by Sims as time expired, the two teams were heading to OT.
In overtime, three lead changes occurred early on, with the most effective being a Courtney Ramey three-pointer to make the score 75-73. After a flagrant foul from Naji Marshall on a Hook-and-Hold, Sims’ two free throws to put the team up 77-73. Following a late surge from Xavier, Texas’ lead vanished, and the score was 77-76. Roach drew a foul to go to the line late, but only made one of two. Luckily Sims batted the missed second shot back out to Roach as he drew another foul. But Texas was not capitalizing on their opportunities to close the game out. Following two misses from Roach, Xavier had a reasonable chance to tie or win with 20 seconds left.
After a well drawn up play by Xavier, Jones missed a midrange jumper and Marshall missed a layup opportunity to tie. But the mature decision-making from Xavier caused a jump ball to give the team one last chance with 2.8 seconds left. Luckily for Texas, a Marshall miss as time expired resulted in a winning result of 78-76 for Shaka Smart and the Longhorns.
Texas Has Multiple Offensive Threats. – Although Texas is notorious for their inconsistencies, they effectively utilized multiple players against Xavier. Kerwin Roach looked like his old self scoring 21 points on 6 of 13 shot attempts. Jase Febres finished with 17 points, most notably shooting 5 of 8 from behind the arc. Courtney Ramey also played well, finishing with 17 points on 7 of 16 shot attempts and 8 rebounds. Jericho Sims had a solid game, ending with 11 points on 5 of 6 shot attempts, 7 rebounds and a game-high 2 blocks. This success will be necessary moving forward in the NIT.
Free-Throws Are Crucial. – Both teams struggled heavily with free throws in this game. Texas finished 60% with their free throws (15-25), with Roach single-handedly missing 8 (7-15). Luckily for Texas, Xavier shot 42.3% from the line (9-21), but as the tournament goes on, teams will make more free-throws. It will be important for Texas to take advantage of free-throw opportunities when they are given.
More Organization Necessary in Defensive Strategy. – Texas struggled to handle the duo of Tyrique Jones and Naji Marshall. Although Marshall was extremely successful in the Big East Conference, Texas could have focused more on Jones to limit his opportunities. Instead, in regulation alone, the duo had 41 of Xavier’s 70 points. With players this capable, Texas needs to learn to maintain composure. Although there were temporary adjustments made by Smart, Jones and Marshall were still able to keep Xavier in the game. Look to see how Smart adjusts his game plan against either Norfolk State or Colorado.
This was an important win for Shaka Smart, as it ensured That Texas will finish with a winning season (18-16 right now). Texas will face off against either Norfolk State or Colorado in Austin on March 27th, time TBD.
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