After scoring eight first-half points as Texas took a halftime advantage over Michigan State, Damarcus Croaker figured to play a major role in the second half. Instead, he played just 26 seconds, entering at the 14:05 mark (Michigan State led 49-47) and leaving at the 13:39 point (the Spartans were up 50-47), after jacking up, and missing, a three-pointer on his only possession.
Fans of Texas basketball shouldn't have been surprised by the move by Longhorn head coach Rick Barnes, who has used long bench time as a coaching tool to try and break players of bad habits. Just last season, Barnes butted heads with Sheldon McClellan multiple times by pulling the talented wing for long periods after lackadaisical play. McClellan transferred after the season.
So why the short leash for Croaker? Barnes explained after the game.
"What we had wanted to do at that point in time, Adreian Payne was terrific, and we wanted him to have to guard," Barnes said. "We talked about playing inside-out, and [Croaker] comes into the game in that situation, and he can shoot the ball, but he already made up his mind he was going to shoot it before he got it. And we really needed to make Adreian Payne defend, and we didn't do that."
Barnes's point makes sense, especially given how red-hot Payne was. The Spartan post made 10-of-13 shots (including all eight of his two-point attempts) and 11-of-12 free throws for a career-high 33 points. Barnes continued to explain.
"We knew that we wanted to make them defend inside, and I thought even early in the game, we were settling way to quick for perimeter shots," Barnes said. "But to answer your question, he went in and did exactly what we didn't want to have happen at that time.
"We wanted to play inside-out and it's one thing in the flow, but where we were right there, we needed to make Adreian Payne defend, and we didn't do that," Barnes concluded.
But why sit him for the whole half? Why not bend his ear during a timeout? Or, if the benching was inevitable, why not for two minutes? Five? Ten?
"It goes back to a feel," Barnes said.
Every player is different. And Barnes said he was concerned game-long with some of the habits displayed, from the team not playing its usual level of defense to committing turnovers and taking bad shots on the offensive end.
"But how do I decide? [What happens in] The game," Barnes said. "And practice, to be honest with you.
"We know our guys," Barnes said.
And in this case, Barnes decided that a player wasn't carrying out what the coaches were asking him to do.
"The biggest thing we have to improve in is listening," Barnes said. "If you don't listen, you're not going to be able to execute."