Kevin Durant and his Texas teammates walked into the locker room at halftime of their Big 12 Tournament match-up against Baylor losing by 18. They weren't just losing, they were getting blown out by the Baylor Bears, a team that Texas has never dropped a single game to in the nine years since Texas head coach Rick Barnes' arrival in Austin and Texas' star, Durant, had a meager five points.
"It's probably the longest I've talked to them all year," said Barnes of his halftime heart-to-heart with his struggling squad. "I said, ‘Hey, if our season ended right now, how would you feel? This is what an NCAA Tournament game is like. If you don't have more energy than you have, this is what you get.'"
Energy was clearly lacking from all of the Longhorns as they were beat up and down the floor by the Bears in the first frame. Texas shot 22.9 percent in the first half (8-of-35), missing all but two of their three-pointers.
The player who struggled the most in the first half was Durant. The First Team All-American, who was presented with the Big 12 Player of the Year Award just minutes before tip-off, missed his first 12 shots of the game. But spurred on by Barnes' words, Durant, and the rest of the Longhorns, did a complete 180 at halftime.
"Coach just told me to keep being aggressive and chip away at the lead," said Durant. ‘My guys did a great job of encouraging me after the halftime to keep shooting it."
And keep shooting it he did, only this time the shots were falling. Big bucket after big bucket fell for Durant and the Longhorns and the massive Baylor lead began to dwindle.
Durant went into half with only five points and finished with 29, more than any Texas player has ever scored in a Big 12 Tournament game.
As the lead narrowed, the energy began to pick up for Texas on both the floor and the bench.
"I looked to a couple assistant coaches and said, in front of them (the players), ‘Can we win this game?'" said Barnes, "and they said ‘Hell yeah!', so I said, ‘Let's go win this game.'"
Durant wasn't the only player responsible for reinvigorating the Longhorns. A burst of energy for the team came from an unlikely place, Texas' lone senior, Craig Winder.
Winder, coming off the end of the bench, had eight points for Texas, hitting all four of his shots and playing tough defense in the second half.
"The buckets came from energy points," said Winder, "hitting the glass and things like that. My biggest thing was getting them going in that part."
Durant, who led the Longhorns in points (29) and rebounds (13), went much further than simply praising Winder.
"Craig did a great job at picking us up. Craig won the game for us by far, man," said Durant.
Field goal percentage is the most tell statistic of where the game shifted. The two team's shooting averages are nearly a mirror opposite between halves.
First half: 22.9% (8-of-35)
Second half: 53.3% (16-of-30)
First half: 53.3% (16-of-30)
Second half: 24.1% (7-of-29)
Texas also out-rebounded the much bigger Bears, 44-42. Earlier this week, Barnes said that he needed somebody underneath to get it done and that somebody was Damion James. The freshman forward finished with 11 hard-fought boards for Texas, boxing out the much larger Baylor centers Mamadou Diene and Josh Lomers. The emotion that can best be associated with James' performance on Friday is anger.
James, like the rest of his teammates, was missing easy buckets in the first. During a rough stretch, Barnes sat James down on the bench and the forward could be seen steaming. James began the second half with a scream and an aggressive rejection of Baylor's Curtis Jerrells that sent the ball careening into the media row. James' apparent anger led to a lack of control on some plays, but also to big blocks and tough rebounds.
With the comeback win, Barnes extended his record against Baylor to 20-0.
Texas also accomplished the comeback in an unexpectedly hostile environment. There was a cornucopia of colors in the stands as fans from every Big 12 school that played on Friday were in attendance. Sensing that the underdog Bears may have a chance, almost the entirety of the crowd was anti-Texas, booing anytime a call went against Baylor.
A glance into the crowd would reveal, not just Horns-down signs from the Baylor fans, but upside-down Hook ‘ems from a multitude of Cowboys, Jayhawks, Sooners, Aggies, Wildcats and more.
There were few friends in this arena, and there will likely be few on Saturday.
The atmosphere for the preceding Texas A&M and Oklahoma State game was electric. Cowboy fans filled the Ford Center in Oklahoma City and will do the same for Texas' Saturday semi-final against Oklahoma State. The game will tip off at 3:20 p.m.