Good teams find a way to win games when things aren't going right. They win despite shooting just 33.9 percent from the field. They win even when their star point guard puts up a ghastly 0-for-12 shooting effort while committing five turnovers. They even find a way to rebound when their opponent — one of the worst shooting teams in the country — can't seem to miss from the field, shooting 56.0 percent in the first half, including 42.9 percent from the field.
Saturday, very little went right for the Longhorns. They certainly didn't play anyone's definition of "pretty basketball." But in winning anyway, in coming back from a 17-point deficit and closing out with a last-second Julien Lewis shot on the road, they might have shown that they have grown considerably as a basketball team in the last month.
That's certainly something that would be indicated by Texas's record. The Longhorns moved to 5-3 in Big 12 play after point guard Myck Kabongo's return, though the previous four wins were accomplished largely through Kabongo's skill, bravado and never-die attitude. Saturday though, Kabongo lurched through a horrific offensive day, missing all 12 of his shots from the field, committing five turnovers to four assists and scoring just seven points. But, as the theme for the game went, Kabongo impacted the game in other ways, stealing the ball three times and grabbing nine boards.
"You know what, I am disappointed," said Texas coach Rick Barnes of the overall result. "I told the guys, 'You know, we haven't won two games since December.' So, the question to me was how would we respond after arguably playing the best game we have already played all year. We come in here and the question is 'I don't know' and it was answered pretty early because Texas Tech showed great heart and great character. And it's not like they've had a great year. I think it got down to competing and they out competed us. We got down and we fought back and won the game."
In fact, pounding the glass and finding scoring off the bench were the only places the Longhorns were consistently better than the host Red Raiders. Texas Tech had a 10-point margin in the paint, an eight-point advantage in points off turnovers and a four-point lead in fast-break points. And with 5:24 left in the first half, when Dusty Hannahs canned a three-pointer, Tech led by 17 at 34-17.
But the very next Texas possession proved to be a harbinger of things to come. Ioannis Papapetrou missed a three-pointer, but Connor Lammert grabbed the offensive rebound and stuck the ball back in. Texas was dominant on the offensive glass for the game, grabbing 20 offensive boards to Tech's 24 defensive boards. To put that into perspective, Texas has grabbed 34.4 percent of the available offensive rebounds this season, good for 87th in the country. But the Longhorns grabbed 45.5 percent on Saturday, using those to score 19 second-chance points to Tech's six. And that scrapping on the offensive glass — led by six offensive rebounds from Cameron Ridley — helped the Longhorns fire back from that deficit.
By halftime, Texas had cut the lead to just seven points at 37-30, and when the Longhorns tied the game at 39-all, it capped off a 22-5 run for the visitors. But if anybody thought Tech was going to roll over after giving up that lead, they were sorely mistaken. Tech went on a 6-0 run of its own to create a bit of space, and the Red Raiders led by eight points with 4:46 remaining after a steal from Dusty Hannahs led to a Jamal Williams dunk.
But Lewis, who hit several huge shots over the course of the game, hit a three-pointer. Then, after Hannahs went 1-for-2 from the line, Lewis knocked in another, slicing the deficit to three. The two teams went back-and-forth from that point, with Josh Gray putting Tech up four with 2:33 left before a jumper from Sheldon McClellan and a pair of McClellan free throws tied the game with 47 seconds remaining. On Tech's next possession, Gray missed a layup opportunity off the side of the backboard, but Jaye Crockett grabbed the offensive board and was fouled. He made 1-of-2, putting Tech up one with 15 seconds left.
Texas didn't quite get the open looks coming off the screens that the Longhorns wanted, so Kabongo drove to the basket. Gray tried to poke the ball away, but got Kabongo's elbow and the refs whistled a foul. Kabongo stepped to the line with three seconds remaining and missed the first free throw. But he made the second, tying the game at 65-all and sending it to overtime.
Neither team shot well in the extra period, but a jumper from McClellan put Texas up 69-66 with 2:25 left. Tech pulled to within one after Ty Nurse stole the ball from Kabongo and fed Gray for a layup, then, after Lewis missed a jumper for Texas, Crockett was fouled with a chance to take the lead. But as he did at the end of regulation, Crockett made 1-of-2, tying the game with 23 seconds remaining in the overtime.
Texas then held the ball before Lewis drove into the paint, pulled up for a slight fadeaway and swished it with 1.7 seconds in the extra period, giving the Longhorns a hard-fought road win. It marked the sixth time this season Texas played in an overtime game, with the Longhorns going 3-3 in those contests. Texas lost all three before Kabongo's reinstatement, and has won all three since Kabongo returned.
"We showed heart at the end," McClellan said. "Coach gave us credit for showing heart. We didn't play hard the whole 40 minutes but, we will definitely play harder next time. We came off with the win and that is what we wanted to do."
All six Texas points in the overtime period came from the bench, and the Longhorn bench scored 32 of the Longhorns' final 41 points in the second half and OT. Overall, Texas's bench outscored Texas Tech's second unit 50 to 14. That effort was led by McClellan, who scored a game-high 27 points on 8-of-18 shooting. He made nine of his 10 attempts at the free throw line. Lewis, who also came off the bench, added another 15, the only other Longhorn in double digits. Kabongo and Ridley led the effort on the glass with nine and seven rebounds, respectively.
"It doesn't really affect us," McClellan said of he and Lewis coming off the bench. "We've been starting and not starting all season and even last year. Whenever our names get called we just go into the game and try to help our team out."
Texas Tech was more balanced, with each starter scoring at least eight points. Crockett had 15 points and eight rebounds, while Jordan Tolbert chipped in 11 and 7. Dejan Kravic scored 10 points, grabbed seven boards, had five assists and blocked four shots. Gray was the other Red Raider in double figures with 11.
With the win and West Virginia's earlier loss, the Longhorns moved up to the No. 7 seed in the Big 12 Tournament. Texas will play No. 10 seed TCU on Wednesday, and if the Longhorns win, they'll play No. 2 seed Kansas State on Thursday. Tech (10-19, 3-15) earned the No. 9 seed and will play the recently demoted Mountaineers on Wednesday. The winner of that game will take on No. 1 seed Kansas.