The team that can’t shoot straight – Texas struggles as losses mount

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas has troubles. A lot of them.

The Longhorns can’t shoot, are struggling to rebound even against smaller teams and have lost three in a row to drop out of the Top 25 as quickly as they got in just two weeks ago.

What happened to the team that looked so good in beating then-No. 7 North Carolina on Thanksgiving? Coach Shaka Smart would like to know.

“Less than two weeks ago we were 5-0 and beat the No. 7 team in the country with the same five guys,” Smart said after Texas lost to VCU, his former team, on Wednesday. “Our last two and a half games we haven’t played with the same confidence. We haven’t played with the same swagger. And when the games have been close, we haven’t made the big plays we need to make.”

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The common denominator in all three losses has been woeful shooting.

Texas (5-3) is 311th out of 351 major college teams in shooting percentage (40.4). They are even worse shooting 3-pointers (28.9 percent, 313th nationally).

“I do sense when the ball’s not going in, some players, their confidence goes down, start seeing head drops,” guard Jase Febres said Friday.

The day after beating North Carolina, Texas led Michigan State by 19 midway through the first half before the Spartans came storming back. Texas shot 22 percent in the second half and lost by 10.

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Against Radford, the Longhorns went 4 of 14 over the final 10 minutes. They led VCU 49-45 before committing eight turnovers over the next five minutes and lost 54-53 despite holding VCU under 30 percent shooting in the second half.

In those home losses to Radford and VCU, Texas missed open 3-pointers in the final seconds that would have won or tied the game. VCU players celebrated with “horns down” hand signals on Texas’ homecourt while their fans chanted “V-C-U” loud enough to echo through the hallways in the bowels of the arena.

No Texas player has been misfiring more than senior guard Kerwin Roach II.

Roach flirted with a move to the NBA after his junior season and his decision to stay set him up to be Texas’ key player on both ends of the court. But after a career game with 32 points and five assists against North Carolina, Roach’s game and shooting touch have disappeared.

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He was 2 of 12 against Radford and on defense gave up the go-ahead layup and a foul for a 3-point play with less than 30 second left. He was 1 of 11 against VCU.

“You can call me out for some poor shots. But every night I’m here from 9:30 to 12 shooting ball. Eventually it will click,” Roach said after the VCU loss.

His teammates won’t blame him.

“He’s a good player. He’s going to figure it out. We’re going to be there with him,” guard Elija Mitrou-Long said. “Nobody is going to ever tell him not to do what he’s doing. If it wasn’t for him in the North Carolina game, we wouldn’t have won. We’re with him.”

Smart is 55-53 at Texas and under contract through 2022-2023 season. Athletic director Chris Del Conte has given no hint that Smart’s job in on the line but there will be pressure to turn things around. Texas missed the 2017 NCAA Tournament after a disastrous season. The Longhorns returned last season but were bounced in the first round in overtime by Nevada.

Smart now has a roster full of players he recruited. At some point, Texas will start asking when the Longhorns will be a Big 12 power again and why Smart has not been able to duplicate his 2011 Final Four run with VCU.

Texas hosts Purdue (6-3) on Sunday night. In between matchups with Grand Canyon and Texas-Arlington, the Longhorns host Providence before starting Big 12 play on the road at No. 16 Kansas State.

“I’d rather us go through this right now,” Febres said. “Working to get a win Sunday would help us a lot.”