January 19, 2010

No. 1 Horns drop first game of the season

Few (if any) expected the Texas Longhorns to run the table through an undefeated season this year. Even with a new shiny No.1 ranking for the first time in school history, there was always going to be a night when things came crashing down.

As it turns out, Monday night was the moment when the school's record 17-game winning streak to begin the season came crashing to a halt.

Missed lay-ups. Poor rebounding. Terrible outside shooting. Bad decision-making. It was all there for the Longhorns in a 71-62 loss to No.9 Kansas State in Manhattan against the backdrop of one of the most explosive college basketball settings in recent years.

Oh, and let's not forget about the free throws.

On a night when Kansas State was a little quicker, a little better and played with a little more want-to, the Longhorns will simply have to chalk this one up to the game. Sometimes it's your night and sometimes it's not.

"We missed some point blank lay-ups so we got to make some finishes," Texas head coach Rick Barnes said after the game. "We knew their front court was going to rebound and we had our hands on a number of balls that we didn't secure and they were able to come up with them and finish it. The free throw line killed us."

Indeed, in a game where the Longhorns were beaten in just about every way imaginable, it was the season-long bugaboo of shooting from the free throw line that might have made it impossible for the nation's No.1 team to challenge for victory in the final minutes.

Overall, the Longhorns were nine of 22 from the free throw line, but it was when the Longhorns missed their free throws that mattered as much as the volume. With the team in an offensive coma, the Longhorns desperately needed to make their shots from the charity stripe to stay in the game and it was a task that turned into the impossible mission in the second half, making only five of 14 shots.

"We knew that we hadn't been a great free throw shooting team all year. And when you're down like we were, you've got to convert those," Barnes said.

While the Longhorns clearly played through their worst 40 minutes of play this season. the Wildcats were able to fight through their own sloppy play with a little more hart and passion that the visitors. Led by an underrated frontcourt that dominated the Longhorns in the paint with alarming ease, the Wildcats raced out to a nine-point lead at halftime before the Longhorns made a second-half charge to take a 44-43 with 12:01 left in the game.

From that moment on, the Wildcats dominated the Longhorns to the finish line, led by the 20 points/12 rebound night from Jamar Samuels and 17 points from Curtis Kelly.

"They were great," Kansas State head coach Frank Martin said. "Jamar (Samuels) is a sophomore, Curtis (Kelly) has not played basketball for three years, and they both played with a lot of passion tonight. I have been on Jamar's rear-end for about three weeks now, because he is averaging less than two defensive rebounds a game. That was a big-boy game today."

The Longhorns were led by Avery Bradley's 11 points, but few players deserve a bouquet of flowers on a night when every layer of the needed execution on offense fell by the wayside.

Offensively, the last two games have hurt us," Barnes said. "It's my fault and you can't blame anybody but me because I'm in charge. We are a good team and we will bounce back."

A look at the numbers

Texas shot the ball incredibly poorly all night, making only 25 of 68 shots (36.8-percent) from the field and three of 11 attempts (27.3-percent) from behind the three-point line to go along with the miserable shooting from the free throw line. Meanwhile, Kansas State made 25 of 65 shots (38.3-percent) from the field, 1 of 12 shots (8.3-percent) from three-point land and 20 of 32 free throws (62.5-percent).

If you dig a little deeper beneath the raw shooting numbers, you'll find out exactly why the Wildcats were able to runaway with the victory in the final minutes, as they dominated second-chance points (23-10), bench points (31-21) and rebounding (50-41), while also holding slight edges in points in the paint (46-42), points off turnovers (15-14), fast-break points (16-12), assists (16-13). Both teams turned the ball over like it was going out of style, as Texas finished with 18 turnovers to slightly better Kansas State's 19.

Not exactly player of the year material

Two nights ago, senior All-America candidate Damion James used the comeback win over Texas A&M as a showcase for his National Player of the Year candidacy by scoring 23 points in the second half and overtime.

Against Kansas State on Monday night, one of the nation's top players was just another guy on the floor.

James finished the night with nine points, seven rebounds (none on the offensive end), zero assists and four turnovers. Although he played hard in 35 minutes of action, he didn't always play well and the final production clearly was beneath a very high standard that he's established this season.

"I think that by being Texas you have a big target on your back, no matter if you are No. 1 or No. 10. So I guess they came out and played hard. It was kind of going back and forth, and then they took off," James said. "They came out at halftime and made a good run. It was a frustrating night for me personally because I know this team allows me to do so much and I didn't come through tonight."

A throwaway night for the frontcourt

If James had a rough night by his lofty standards, it's tough to put into words exactly how poor the rest of the Texas front court played in one of the biggest road games of the year.

In addition to the -9 rebounding number the nation's top rebounding team posted, the execution on the offensive end was borderline awful, as Barnes kept subbing in players and subbing them right back out when their attempts to finish near the rim fell apart like wet tissue paper.

On a night when everyone in the frontcourt failed to do their job, senior Dexter Pittman might have had the roughest night of all, as his recent two-week slump reached its zenith. The possible NBA lottery pick made a couple of dunks in the second half, but still finished with six points (three-of-seven shooting) and seven rebounds in 16 minutes. Pittman has suddenly gone from a dominating figure to someone whose confidence on the offensive end of the floor has disappeared.

While Pittman was continuing his struggles, there wasn't a lot of help behind him. Junior Gary Johnson, who has been on fire recently, finished with a disappointing five-point/five-rebound night, and Alexis Wangmene played himself right out of the game with two early offensive misses in the first half.

Only the surprising play from Clint Chapman (six points/two rebounds) in seven minutes of action was a bright spot.

"No, it wasn't," James replied when asked if the game had been the most physical the Longhorns had played all season. "We played games against North Carolina and Michigan State. Those guys are physical as well. I don't think this team was more physical than any other teams."

They just played better.

Freshmen playing like freshmen

The trio of Avery Bradley, Jordan Hamilton and J'Covan Brown have given the Longhorns some gutsy, big performances in big games this season, but Monday night proved to be a little too big of a stage for all three.

Although Bradley led the Longhorns with 11 points before fouling out, he struggled to find any confidence on the offensive end for most of the night and didn't actually get into the scoring column until the 2:27 mark in the first half. Until that moment, he had missed all three of his previous shots and failed to get to the free throw line.

Meanwhile, Hamilton and Brown weren't any more productive, as they combined for 10 points on four-of-15 shooting from the floor in 32 combined minutes. Both players continue to force bad shots in important stretches of the game and don't appear confident enough in the other aspects of their games to simply let the offense come to them in the natural flow of the offense.

You know what they say about freshmen, "Can't live with them… can't kill them."

Star of the game

It would appear that the search for this team's lead point guard is over - it's Dogus Balbay and everyone else is searching for crumbs.

The junior from Turkey had another one of those nights where the stat sheet simply doesn't do him justice (seven points, five rebounds, four assists, a steal and six turnovers), but make no mistake about it - the team ran like a well-oiled machine at times when he was running the ship and it looked like a third grader's rusty bike chain after having been left out in the rain for a week when the others (Jai Lucas and Brown) were manning the reigns.

Even with the six turnovers, Balbay's defense forced Denis Clemente into one of the worst nights of his career. The same guy that dropped a 44-bomb on Texas last season in Austin was held to 2-of-15 shooting this time around.

To be completely frank, this team looks like a top-five team when Balbay is on the floor and it simply doesn't when he isn't.

The Big Number

There are a lot of numbers to choose from, but the fact that the nation's second-leading scoring offense was held to 25 made field goals, three made three-pointers and only nine made free throws is all the evidence you need to see to know that the Longhorns didn't beat a top ten team on the road.

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