Texas falters late, loses to Michigan State

The #5 Texas Longhorns came into Saturday as team that had the chance to beat another top 20 opponent and begin the run for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With 1:26 left, it appeared the Longhorns would have a great shot at another resume stamping win. The Spartans had other ideas and Texas faltered down the stretch.

The Texas Longhorns took a 63-62 lead with 1:26 to play in the game on a Gary Johnson driving score over Goran Suton. Unfortunately, that would be the last time Johnson, who scored a career-high 20 points, would touch the ball and the Longhorns failed to score after that point.

After the Longhorns failed to get a good shot on their next possession after a forced Michigan State shot, the Spartans responded with a huge three-pointer in the right corner by Durrell Summers to take a 65-63 lead with 18.6 seconds to play.

The Longhorns then had one chance to tie or take the lead, but a second Justin Mason miss from three-point land ended the Texas hopes as Michigan State (8-2) rebounded and made a pair of free throws.

In a game of back and forth physical plays with multiple lead changes, it was the Spartans led by Coach Tom Izzo, who made the plays late to steal a victory in Houston in front of a pro-Texas crowd.

The Longhorns (9-2) took a 34-32 lead into the half after a near dominant half on the glass out rebounding Michigan State 23-16.

The Longhorns were dealt a blow with 9:42 remaining in the first half when point guard Justin Mason went to the locker room with a cut above the right eye that required six stitches.

Sophomore point guard Dogus Balbay stepped up and played the best 14-minute stretch of his career at Texas dishing out five assists and creating numerous looks on screen and float in the closing minutes.

Spartan guard Travis Walton harassed the red hot A.J. Abrams the entire game. Every time Abrams caught the ball, Walton was right under Abrams as the senior guard from Round Rock struggled to a 3-10 showing, including 0-4 from the three-point line.

The first few minutes of the game were not a thing of beauty as each team turned the ball over with regularity and combined to miss 11 of 14 shots. The Spartans lone score in the first few minutes was an offensive rebound and put back.

Goran Suton led the Spartans with 18 points on 7-8 shooting. Summers tossed in 14 and Kalin Lucas 11 to go with five rebounds and four assists.

Johnson led the Longhorns with 20 points on 8-12 shooting. Damion James added 15 points, 10 rebounds and three steals.

A Look at the Numbers

Texas connected on just 38.6% (22-57) from the field, 29.4% (5-17) from the three-point line and 73.7% (14-19) from the foul line.

The Spartans knocked down 50.9% (28-55) overall, 30% (3-10) from three and 47.1% (8-17) from the free throw line.

Texas won the battle of the boards 37-34, while the turnovers were even at 15.

The Good

Gary Johnson played as well as he has in a while, save the four turnovers, but all of the Texas bigs had their turnover issues (James three and Pittman two). Johnson hit numerous mid-range jumpers and attacked off the bounce. The good was also the bad though as it's a real head scratcher why Johnson, still with the slower footed Suton guarding him, didn't get a chance on a screen and float or just plain clear out in the final minute of the game. That was the mismatch on the floor.

Dogus Balbay played his best game as a Longhorn in 14 minutes. He dished out five assists (one turnover), grabbed a couple of key first half rebounds and pressured the ball. Another in the line of head scratchers, Balbay didn't get a minute of time in the second half after proving to be the only Texas player that could drive the ball against the Michigan State defense as well as make the correct read and pass with timing in the screen and float.

Damion James was active the entire game. He recorded three steals, pulled down 10 rebounds and played to his strengths with catch and shoot in the half court.

There was a Connor Atchley sighting on the offensive end in the second half after a first half that was a series of air balls and the look of the Atchley that was frustrating as a sophomore.

In the first half and through much of the second, the Longhorns did a good job of working to get the ball to the blocks. The result was Michigan State fouling.

Gary Johnson and Dexter Pittman went 8-8 from the free throw line. Pittman's foul shooting this year has been a pleasant surprise to all.

The rebounding has been a fairly big disappointment the last couple of games. In the first half, Texas won the battle of the board 23-16. In the second half, it evened out a little. With Michigan State running a lot of 1-4 high sets, it keeps the Spartans in good position to crash the offensive glass. The Longhorns did a very good job for the most part.

The Bad

The decisions on the offensive end in the closing minute were head scratchers. The team didn't work the mismatch that Gary Johnson had with Suton after scoring and taking the lead with 1:26 to play. Texas was in the double bonus and didn't attempt to get the ball to the post or force contact and attempt to get to the line.

The decision not to play Balbay in the second half was puzzling as Texas continued to struggle in the half court. When Texas went three guards, they went with Varez Ward who was forced to guard Raymar Morgan and the Spartans posted Morgan up quickly. Mason would have stood a much better chance to defend Morgan and playing Balbay would have given Texas a better chance in the half court. Mason would have been matched up with Morgan and would have had a better chance to drive the ball.

Not bad as much as credit to Michigan State, the Spartans scored on two second half inbounds passes under their basket. Texas pressured and caused the Spartans problems on inbounds passes in the first half, but Coach Izzo did a very good job of spreading the floor with timing and slashing to the middle of the lane for two uncontested baskets.

Good for Michigan State again, but bad for Texas, Travis Walton did a great job defending A.J. Abrams. Walton stuck with Abrams like glue and when Abrams did get a look, the senior guard changed the release point of Abrams or made Abrams shoot very quickly and without rhythm.

Overall

Texas has to bounce back as they face a tough road game at Wisconsin December 23. It will be another half court grind type of game against a very soundly coached team.

At 9-2 with wins over UCLA and Villanova, the Longhorns need to beat Wisconsin and win out the final three games of the non-conference to have a shot at a number two seed headed into Big 12 play. Games against Wisconsin and Arkansas are now a must to complete an impressive non-conference resume.


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