In order to reach the Elite Eight, the No. 2 seed Texas Longhorns would have to figure out a way to limit No. 3 seed Xavier, one of the best offensive teams in the country. During the first 20 minutes of its Sweet 16 contest, Texas didn’t just figure out how to defend Xavier. Rather, the Longhorns put on a defensive clinic that countless teams will undoubtedly watch when searching for an example of elite defense against a second-weekend caliber team.
The Longhorns bullied the Musketeers in the first half of Friday’s regional semifinal matchup, putting one of the nation’s most prolific offensive teams in uncomfortable situation after uncomfortable situation. Xavier was a paltry 9-for-33 from the field in the first half, scoring just 25 points. Meanwhile, Texas made the most of its opportunities on the other end on its way to a 17-point halftime advantage.
That first-half performance gave Texas plenty of breathing room with which to operate after the break, and in a successful second 20 minutes, the Longhorns never let the Musketeers cut the margin to single digits as UT advanced to its first Elite Eight since 2008 in an 83-71 win.
“Excited for our guys,” Texas interim head coach Rodney Terry said. “I thought we played one of our better defensive games tonight that we’ve played all year. Played against a really good Xavier offensive team that really pushes the ball hard in transition, and makes you really have to guard hard on offense.”
The 12-point margin belied how dominant the result was in favor of the Longhorns following their strong first half. Even without Dylan Disu for most of the game after he left with a left foot injury, Texas made life on the offensive end a nightmare for XU playmakers Souley Boum, Jack Nunge, and Colby Jones.
“We did a really good job of not giving those guys a lot of separation,” Terry said about his team’s defense.
Musketeer guards had to work just to cross the timeline. While Texas limited XU to a 9-for-33 effort in the first half, including a 2-for-8 showing from behind the arc, Terry’s team converted 17-of-32 opportunities from the field in the first 20 minutes. That included 15 first-half points from Marcus Carr and 10 points from Christian Bishop in Disu’s stead. Bishop played inspired ball near his hometown of Lee’s Summit, Mo., in Kansas City.
Carr and Bishop were two of the five Longhorns who finished with double-digit scoring totals. Tyrese Hunter played one of his best games of the year, and did so when Carr believed he was in foul trouble in the middle portion of the game. The Iowa State transfer scored a team-high 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including 3-for-3 from three. Bishop and Carr added 18 points apiece, while Sir’Jabari Rice added 16 points and Timmy Allen scored 11 points.
That group of five scored 82 of Texas’ 83 points. Nine Longhorns played, but outside of the aforementioned five, the only additional scoring contribution came via one Brock Cunningham made free throw in the second half.
While most of the scoring responsibilities were taken care of by five Horns, all eight players Terry put on the floor after Disu was ruled out were part of one of the top defensive performances in program history. Texas put pressure on XU ball-handlers from the jump, and contested shots inside and out to contribute to Xavier’s 24 first-half misses.
Xavier had several extended scoreless stretches in the first half. The Musketeers were unable to add to their scoring total from the 16:19 mark to when 12:40 remained until halftime. Texas built a double-digit lead when Sean Miller’s team couldn’t make a basket between the 6:59 mark and when 5:47 remained until the break.
Then, once more, over two minutes elapsed between Nunge’s bucket with 5:47 left to make it 26-18 Texas and Adam Kunkel’s three-pointer with 3:01 left. By that point, Texas had a 13-point lead it would only grow before halftime.
A quick 4-0 run made by Xavier between the 2:01 and 0:48 marks was quickly countered by two Longhorn three-pointers. Hunter made a shot from beyond the arc with 0:37 remaining before the break to make it 39-25 Longhorns. Then, after Texas forced an empty Musketeer possession, Allen hit a buzzer-beating half-court shot, just his third made three-pointer of the year, to put the margin at 17 points at half.
The first-half was a watershed moment for the Longhorn basketball program, which has not seen this level of success in over a decade-and-a-half. Utilizing defensive intensity similar to that of Rick Barnes’ best teams, many of which had Terry on the bench as an assistant coach, Texas owned the floor in the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City for the third time in as many weeks.
Texas and Xavier traded buckets after halftime, with the Longhorn lead never shrinking below 13 points. The Longhorns built an advantage as large as 24 points in the second half thanks to a 10-0 run that featured three-pointers from Carr and Hunter, plus four total made free throws by Allen, Rice, and Cunningham.
The Longhorns will face No. 4 seed Miami on Sunday at 4:05 p.m. Central. Should Texas advance, the Longhorns will be in the national semifinals for the first time since 2003.
A historic defensive performance put the Longhorns in this position. One more against a capable Hurricane team, and Texas will be in Houston playing in the program’s fourth Final Four.
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