Notre Dame takes out Texas in a nail biter

The #6 Texas Longhorns faced their first stiff challenge of the season on Tuesday and failed before a late rally gave Texas a half court chance at the buzzer. A.J. Abrams and Justin Mason rallied the Longhorns late with a trio of three pointers and received some help as the Fighting Irish missed four consecutive free throws in the closing seconds.

Going into Tuesday afternoon in Maui, the #6 Longhorns knew they would face their first tough test of the season against a top ten-ranked Notre Dame team that features one of the top offensive teams in the country.

The end result was a one-point loss after a trio of three pointers by A.J. Abrams and Justin Mason in a game that was controlled in the closing minutes by Notre Dame.

Leading 81-77 with 17.2 seconds to play, Notre Dame missed four consecutive free throws with Zach Hillesland and Luke Harangody missing two each.

Down four points, Longhorn (3-1) guard Justin Mason hit a 23-footer from the left wing after an offensive rebound by Connor Atchley in the corner.

After Harangody missed the second of his two free throws, Abrams took two dribbles and let a half court runner fly that was right on line, but hit the front rim.

With zeros on the clock, the Irish (4-0) coaching staff and players exhaled having held on 81-80.

Notre Dame had their way inside and out the entire game shooting 46.9% from the field. The Irish hit 11 three-pointers and Harangody scored 29 points on an array of offensive moves. Notre Dame consistently created two on one chances in the half court and converted or got to the foul line.

The Longhorns took advantage of an interior size advantage in the first half scoring 22 points in the paint to six by the Irish, but failed to do so in the second half with the same advantage.

Notre Dame led 43-40 at the half.

A.J. Abrams led the Longhorns with 23 points, but it took 26 field goal attempts without an assist to get to his points. Joining Abrams in double figures was Mason with 16, Damion James with 11 and Gary Johnson with 10.

Harangody led the Irish with 29 points and 11 rebounds. Kyle McAlarney chipped in 19 and Tory Jackson 16 for the undefeated Big East team.

The Longhorns will play in the third place game Wednesday at 3:30pm against the loser of North Carolina and Oregon.

A Look at the Numbers

Texas connected on 42.7% (32-75) from the field, 32% (8-25) from the three-point line and 57.1% (8-14) from the foul line.

The Irish knocked down 46.9% (30-64) overall, 45.8% (11-24) from three and 47.6% (10-21) from the free throw line.

Texas won the battle of the boards 45-33.

The Good

After a very poor performance Monday afternoon, Justin Mason responded with his best game of the season when Texas had to have him most. Facing a Notre Dame team that has only one above average perimeter defender in Tory Jackson, Mason consistently attacked off the dribble and looked to exploit matchups against defenders that lack lateral quickness.

Mason finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for one of his best career games as a Longhorn.

The Longhorns showed their heart late in a game as they have time and time again under Coach Barnes. Abrams and Mason continued to battle and leave everything on the floor. Atchley came up big as well with a couple of hustle plays late.

Alexis Wangmene again gave Texas quality minutes off the bench.

The Longhorns scored at will against the Irish 2-3 zone in the first half. They attacked the middle and short corner scoring several baskets inside 14-feet.

The Bad

The Longhorns didn't make a post entry pass in the final four minutes of the game and two of those possessions Gary Johnson had terrific position and his man on his hip. Both times the post entry pass was there and both times the Texas guards failed to make a post entry pass or take a dribble to create the angle needed.

Give Notre Dame credit for working to get the ball to McAlarney, but the Longhorns turned their head away from the senior sharpshooter too many times Tuesday night. In the first half, Varez Ward took three steps to help on a Tory Jackson drive going right, which is not the side he excels driving to get a mid-range jumper or get to the rim. The result was a simple kick to McAlarney for a clean look.

In the second half, McAlarney knocked down two three pointers after Abrams turned his head instead of taking away the Irish's top three-point threat that needs only a split second to catch and release.

Offensively, Damion James was bad. James had three more unforced turnovers that should have been four or six points. That's quickly becoming a trend and a trend that will be key in losing close games against quality opponents. His shot selection was terrible again. He is too quick and he's living on the perimeter. When James lives on the perimeter, he's not the rebounder on the offensive end he should be.

While James pulled down 10 rebounds for the game, it would have been a 14 to 16 type of rebound game (like a few times last year) if he was playing closer to the basket. This is an area the Longhorns may have to take a long look at if James doesn't improve in transition on offense, in the half court and in shot selection. The junior simply can't continue to throw points away with unforced turnovers and not play to his strengths as a rebounder.

Texas isn't working to get Connor Atchley enough shots. Atchley needs to be taking nine to ten field goal attempts per game, which means more post up chances where he usually gets a good look or makes a play for a teammate.

Gary Johnson has to develop a left hand at some point. Every defender is playing his left should knowing he's going to the jump hook middle from the right block. The sophomore either needs a left hand to go back to when he feels the defender playing his right hand/jump hook or a fade away going baseline. There has to be a second option.

While Abrams brought the ball up the court on about half of the possessions in the game, he didn't make plays for teammates. He got his shots off the ball screens, but never split the hedge or turned the corner and created a straight line drive that would force quick rotation and dump off passes.

Texas attempted too many field goal attempts on the perimeter from Abrams and others when Texas had a clear advantage on the interior. The Longhorns must simply be able to work an interior advantage better as the season goes along.

Texas has to use Balbay more as a creator. His strength is in the ball screen game and Texas isn't giving him a chance to be a playmaker that they desperately need. As the season goes on, he must be a part of the half court offense.

Texas was bad again from the free throw line at 57%, but was better than Notre Dame at 47% with four key misses in the final seconds.

Overall

Even though it was a one-point loss against a quality opponent, there are more negatives than positives when a program has the expectations that Texas now has. The Longhorns will improve as they always do and it won't be a surprise if they aren't a better team than Notre Dame by years end as reserve guards Varez Ward and Dogus Balbay gain experience and the young big men Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman continue to improve, but this is a loss that could decide a seed come March.

Texas is a quality team and that hasn't changed with the loss. The loss does clearly show where Texas must improve and that starts with Damion James on the offensive end, Texas' inability to work an interior match-up, defending big time shooters better and the development of Ward and Balbay off the bench at guard.


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