December 20, 2008

The BIG Review: Horns drop one to MSU

In the final minutes of their showdown with No.21 Michigan State in Houston on Saturday, you would have never guessed that the No.5 Texas Longhorns are a veteran team - full of players that have been in just about every conceivable situation.

There were terrible turnovers, ill-advised shots and the best players on the team disappeared… and that was in the final minute alone, as the Longhorns let a golden opportunity go to waste in losing 67-63 to the Spartans.

The Longhorns held a 61-56 lead with 5:33 remaining in the game and seemed to be in control of the pace of the game, but Tom Izzo's team made all of the key plays down the stretch, including Durrell Summers' three-point shot with 20 seconds left that gave Michigan State a 65-63 lead.

"I told him if he would just concentrate on doing his assignments, everything else would fall in place," Izzo said. "He's a good shooter. He is a big-time player. He's just got to do more things defensively. Today, he grew up a little bit."

Texas had a chance to re-take the lead, but guards A.J. Abrams and Justin Mason turned it over on mishandled exchange that gave the Spartans a chance to extend the lead with 11 seconds left.

After Kalin Lucas missed the front-end of a one-and-one situation to give Texas one last shot to win the game, Mason misfired on a three-point attempt and the Spartans grabbed the defensive rebound to secure the win.

Leading the way for the Longhorns on the afternoon was sophomore Gary Johnson, who scored 20 points and grabbed five rebounds in his homecoming game. Junior Damion James (15 points and 11 rebounds) was the only other Longhorn in double-figures, but he disappeared (one for three from the floor) on the offensive end in the second half.

"They're a very good defensive team," Texas head coach Rick Barnes said. "They made it hard to score."

Senior Goran Suton led the Spartans with 18 points, while Summers finished with 14 points.

Inside the Numbers

The Longhorns finished the night 22-of-56 from the field (39.3 percent), 5-of-15 (33.3 percent) from three-point land and were 14-of-19 (73.7 percent) from the free throw line. The Spartans were 28-of-55 from the field (50.9 percent), 3-of-9 (33.3 percent) from three-point land and were 8-of-17 (47.1 percent) from the free throw line. The Longhorns dominated Michigan State for much of the game and had a +11 edge at the half, but they finished with only a 37-34 edge on the glass. Both teams had 15 turnovers, while Michigan State edged the Longhorns in assists (16-13).

Star of the game

The bad news for Texas is that there wasn't enough good individual offensive play to warrant a healthy discussion. The only player that seemed to be inclined to make a play in the second half was Johnson, who scored eight of his 20 points in the second half. When the rest of the team was walking on egg shells when the Longhorns had possession of the ball, Johnson confidently knocked down mid-range jumpers and attacked the rim and made a lay-up with 1:31 left in the game to give Texas a one-point lead. He never got another shot on offense for the rest of the game, which is one of the reasons why the Longhorns lost the game.

Unsung hero

It's been a tough season for senior Connor Atchley, but after showing signs of coming out of a funk against Texas Southern earlier in the week and he really kept the Longhorns above water in the second half with he scored eight points in a two minute stretch in the second half that allowed Texas to climb out of a 40-39 hole and grab a 47-42 lead. Yes, he shot three-of-nine from the field, but he finished with eight points, four rebounds and two blocks.

Backcourt drops the ball

The Longhorns had a very difficult time on the offensive end of things on Saturday and it mostly centered around the inability of the UT guards to get anything going.

Abrams was suffocated by the defense of MSU senior Travis Walton, connecting on only three-of-10 shots from the field, zero-of-four from three-point land and only scored eight points - 12 below his season average.

"Every time I did catch the ball, if I did catch the ball, I was kind of out of position," Abrams said. "They just did a good job on me. Looking back on it, if I could do something different, I might kind of slow down a little bit."

Meanwhile, Mason was knocked out of the game for a while in the first half when he caught an elbow in the eye that required stitches. When he came back to the line-up, he had a difficult time getting anyone, including himself involved, as he missed four-of-five shots and dished out only three assists.

Overall, the Texas backcourt was four-of-16 from the field and made only one-of-seven shots from three-point range.

The best sign that you might have missed

He didn't see much action down the stretch, but sophomore Dogus Balbay dished out five assists and grabbed two physical rebounds, including one on the offensive end that led to a basket, in 14 minutes of action.

The Memphis line

As the national runner-ups from last season, the Memphis Tigers proved that you can go far as a team, even if you're team free throw shooting is pretty terrible.

Yet, as we head into the second month of the schedule, this Texas team has often made the Tigers look like a team of Danny Ainges' from the charity stripe. While the Tigers finished last year with a 61.4 percent mark from the line, the Longhorns entered Saturday's game with a 61.2 percent clip for the season.

The good news for the Longhorns is that they shot 14-of-19 (73.7 percent) from the line on Saturday to boost their season percentage to 62.2.

That means that they are finally over the Memphis number and perhaps if they can get a few more good games at the line under their belt, we might be able to drop the Memphis watch, but just can't right now.

Top three plays of the night

Bronze - Atchley made a tremendous defensive play with 1:01 left when he stuffed and stripped Summers of the ball to give the Longhorns a chance to build on their 63-62 lead.

Silver - I haven't given anyone from the opposing team any love in the top three all year, but when Clint Chapman had his dunk attempt blocked by Idong Ibok and the high-flying Summers dunked it home with authority on the other end of the court in the blink of an eye. It probably registered as the most athletic sequence of play I've seen from any Texas opponent all season.

Gold - The Longhorns had gone more than four minutes without a basketball in the final six minutes of the game when Johnson took matters into his own hands with a strong drive to the basket through a couple of defenders for a lay-up that gave Texas a one-point lead with 91 seconds left in the game.

Longhorn Dunk O'Meter

All season long we plan to keep a running tally on which Longhorns are flying above the rim the most. After averaging 3.9 dunks per game through the first 10 games of the season, the Longhorns were shut out on Saturday, while the Spartans threw it down four times.

Here's tonight's scoreboard:


Here's the season scorecard:

Damion James - 14
Dexter Pittman - 10
Justin Mason - 5
Clint Chapman - 4
Gary Johnson - 3
Connor Atchley - 2
Alexis Wangmene - 1

The BIG number


That's what the Longhorns, minus Johnson and James, shot for the game.

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