The Texas Longhorns defeated the Tennessee Volunteers, 52-51, in the Big 12-SEC Challenge at the Erwin Center in Austin, Texas, on Saturday evening.
The game was a homecoming for former Longhorns head coach Rick Barnes, who is now at Tennessee. But the Longhorns (16-5, 5-3 in Big 12), while quite hospitable to Barnes during pre-game, did not have the same philosophy with his No. 18 Vols (14-6, 5-3 in SEC) once the game started.
Texas put on one of its best defensive efforts of the season, building on a slim 27-25 halftime lead and then growing it with a combination of that defense and the outside shooting of Courtney Ramey, who finished with 18 points. Texas even outscored Tennessee 22-7 in the first 12 minutes of the second half.
Then, Barnes resurrected his Volunteers, implementing a full-court press to goad Texas into mistakes and then used a 16-0 run to tie the game at 51-51 with 1:24 left.
Texas’ Timmy Allen shot a turnaround jumper with six seconds left to draw a foul from Tennessee’s Josiah-Jordan James. Allen missed the first free throw but made the second after a Texas time out. Tennessee then took a time out to set up a final play.
After the time out, Jordan-James missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer as Texas escaped.
Here are our three thoughts from the game.
The Defense Did It (For A While)
Texas has cultivated a reputation as one of the nation’s best defenses in Chris Beard’s first season in Austin. Entering the game, Texas led the nation in scoring defense, averaging 54.7 points per game. Beard has carried the intensity his teams had at Texas Tech over to Texas.
How hard was it for Tennessee? The Vols shot 35.8 percent from the floor, 27.9 percent from the 3-point line and started the second half with 1-for-12 shooting, putting them down 40-28 after the first eight minutes. Texas had as much as a 17-point lead.
There was no better manifestation of that defense than what the Longhorns did to Tennessee’s Santiago Vescosi. He averages 14 points per game. Against Texas he had just three points.
There was no flow at all for the Volunteers, as they spent most of the game searching for daylight to shoot, and that daylight was hard to come by, thanks to the Texas defense.
Then What Happened?
It was a combination of Tennessee ramping up its own defensive pressure and Texas letting its foot off the gas. Tennessee had a 19-4 run in the final nine minutes leading up to Texas’ final point. The player who just killed Texas was Zakai Zeigler, who always seemed to be around the ball on offense and defense in the final minutes of the game. He finished with 12 points.
Then, Barnes turned to a full court press to try and get back into the game and it put Texas on its heels. The Longhorns stopped being the aggressors in the game. Frankly, Texas had been the aggressor all week, dating back to their game against TCU on Tuesday. But for the final several minutes against Tennessee, they became passive and played on their heels, making turnovers and missing shots.
Texas was lucky to win, and it didn’t have to be that way.
Rick Barnes return to Texas for the first time since he and the program parted ways after the 2014-15 season. The Longhorns gave him the return he deserved after he won 402 games and took them to a Final Four during his time in Austin. They honored him with a near-capacity crowd, a video montage of his career in Austin and he even got a curtain call and some sneakers. Barnes, in turn, brought his family, including his grandkids, to the game so they could experience it. Chris Beard and the Texas program went out of its way to make sure Barnes had a heartfelt return to the 40 Acres.
Beard is unlikely to enjoy a similar return when he heads to Lubbock on Tuesday.
Big 12-SEC Challenge Results
(SEC Won, 6-4)
Texas 52, No. 18 Tennessee 51
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.