AUSTIN, Texas – Youth can be served and it can be taught. This week, Texas served up a surprising victory at No. 14 North Carolina and then learned a painful lesson against No. 5 Michigan State.
The Spartans pulled away over the last 12 minutes to post a 92-78 victory Saturday at the Erwin Center. A victory might have put the Longhorns (10-2) into this week’s rankings (and, who knows, that still could happen). But the missteps that led to the loss should provide the teaching tools that coaches covet.
Texas, which has just one junior on its roster, found out what happens when a veteran team with an accomplished coach is given an opening. A four-minute UT lapse caused by forced shots and weak rebounding sparked a 14-2 Michigan State run that transferred control of the game.
“We’ve got a good team and we’ll learn from this,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “We need to grow from the mental aspect. I love this team. They’re disappointed with the loss. I’ll be really surprised if we don’t learn from this. Sometimes you need a game like this.”
After last season’s dumpster fire, Texas has recouped its losses and appears vastly improved in its teamwork. Michigan State (10-1) coach Tom Izzo, who knows a thing or two about the sport, is impressed.
“I love the Texas team’s chemistry,” he said. “I think they’re more together. You get players who don’t buy in … I felt for him last year. I’ve been there. I’ve been there and won and I’ve been there and lost. The future at Texas is incredibly bright.”
Despite the loss, the Longhorns further advanced the story line that the Big 12 has one of the deepest and most-competitive conferences in college basketball. If it pleases the reader, the following is submitted as evidence.
- ESPN.com’s Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) Tweeted: “The Big 12 is the deepest league in America. Discuss .... To the folks saying "no way" about Big 12 depth. Find another conference with 70 percent of its membership in the tourney conversation.”
- Kansas State upset No. 21 Gonzaga, 72-62 in Wichita, Kan. The Wildcats have held eight of their last opponents under their season scoring average. The Zags came in averaging 87.5 points per game. K-State freshman Marcus Foster had a SportsCenter-quality dunk. And freshman point guard Jevon Thomas is now eligible after complying with NCAA eligibility standards.
- Jon Rothstein, a college basketball insider from CBSSports.com (@JonRothstein), Tweeted: “The thought I keep having watching Kansas State's backcourt? They're going to be really tough to stop when they get Jevon Thomas.”
- TCU improved to 8-3 with a 70-58 victory over Tulsa. After the game, Horned Frogs coach Trent Johnson said that Amric Fields, the team’s best front court scorer who has been sidelined by a broken non-shooting hand, will return to practice after Christmas break.
- After losing three of four, Kansas has bounced back and posted a dominating 86-64 victory over visiting Georgetown. Freshman center Joel Embiid, who leads the team in rebounds, blocked shots and steals, had 17 points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes.
- Oklahoma improved to 11-1 with a 64-52 victory over Texas A&M in a game played in Houston. Freshman Jordan Woodard scored 20 points as the Sooners won the final game of the Big 12-SEC Challenge. The Big 12 won the series 7-3.
- And Oklahoma State closed out a successful Saturday with a 78-73 victory over No. 20 Colorado in a game played at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The seventh-ranked Cowboys (10-1) had three players in double figures, led by senior Markel Brown who finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
- Big 12 teams are 8-8 versus non-conference top 25 opponents this season. The league has already surpassed last season’s win total against top 25 foes and is the most since 2010-11. With conference play starting in about two weeks, the bottom line is the Big 12 has minimal “bad” losses and the “good” victories have been plentiful.
- CBS analyst Greg Anthony (@GregAnthony50), who worked Saturday’s Michigan State-UT game along with Tim Brando, Tweeted: “While this is not the outcome that the young Texas team (wanted) ...this game will do wonders for their growth moving forward!”
The Michigan State-Texas game was sponsored by a local pest control company and one Spartan was both a pain and a pest. Michigan State’s Adreian Payne, a 6-10 senior forward, gave the visitors something the home team didn’t have. He finished with a career-high 33 points on 10-of-13 shooting. Payne was 11-of-12 from the line and had nine rebounds.
After Felix gave Texas a 38-36 halftime lead with a jumper just before the buzzer, Payne made sure that any momentum carried into the second half. He had seven points and assisted on another basket as the Spartans slowly exerted control.
“We went to him almost every time and he delivered with the best game of his career,” Izzo said. “He did a heckuva job and we kinda beat ‘em to death. It was a big road win for us against a very, very good team.”
Kendal Yancy’s 3-pointer with 11:55 remaining forged a 50-all tie but from there the Longhorns found themselves squeezed in a Green and White vise. Michigan State turned a halftime rebounding deficit into a 43-33 edge and the Spartans’ defense locked up the UT offense. With the offensive well dry, the Longhorns couldn’t keep Michigan State from moving the scoreboard.
“We defended better and we rebounded a lot better,” Izzo said. “They took us out of our offense in the first half.”
The Spartans scored on 14 of 17 possessions capped by back-to-back dunks on run outs to take a 79-66 lead with 3:28 to play.
“We have to learn how to play for 40 minutes,” said Texas sophomore Jevan Felix, who scored 11 coming off the bench. “We played right into their hands by not getting movement with our offense. That got their fast break going. That was one of the keys was to keep them out of transition.”
Sophomore center Cameron Ridley had 17 points to lead Texas. However, he attempted just two shots in the second half.
Barnes pointed out that one teachable moment will be listening and following the game plan. UT wanted to get the ball inside and try to get Payne in foul trouble. During the fateful stretch of the second half, the Longhorns failed to do that. The result was quick shots and turnovers that fueled Michigan State’s fast break.
“If they keep growing, this is gonna be a special team,” Izzo said of the Longhorns. “If not for Payne, that game would have gone to the wire.”
For the Big 12, this season is lining up to deliver more gain than pain.