J'Covan Brown willed Texas back into a game dominated by Baylor for the first 27 minutes.
So his Big 12-player-of-the-year-like ability to take over yet another game (he finished with 32 points - his third 30-point game of the season) helped hide a lot of warts (like the 10 missed FTs by Texas and the 40-28 Baylor rebound advantage).
The bottom line is after trailing by 12 with 13 minutes left as Perry Jones III toyed with UT's frontcourt at times, Brown scored 7 points in a 14-2 run, capped by a 3 by Brown, to tie the game at 54 with 8:54 left.
Some big rebounds and gritty play down low by Alexis Wangmene (let's not talk about those two HUGE free throws he missed with 44 seconds left and Texas down by five); some in-your-face defense by Julien Lewis on Baylor's JUCO transfer star Pierre Jackson (who was just 2-of-7 for 7 points, well below Jackson's average of 12.8 ppg); and Brown's big balla mentality helped Texas cut Baylor's lead to 64-63 with 4 minutes left.
Texas could have tied the game at 64, but Myck Kabongo, who had an up-and-down game, including foul trouble in the first half, could not add the free throw after being fouled on a 3-pointer. (More on his missed FTs later.)
Nonetheless, this would mark the third time in the last four games against ranked opponents that Texas would have a good look at an upset in a one-possession contest in the final four minutes. (Kansas State and Kansas were the others).
But Texas couldn't balance its desire to get (or keep) the ball in the hands of J'Covan Brown with the ability to get the ball in the hands of anyone else on the offensive end in those final minutes. (A recap of those final 4 minutes is included at the end of this recap.)
So Texas walks out of the Ferrell Center with a 76-71 loss. Rick Barnes was 12-1 in Waco vs Baylor before Saturday.
TEXAS GETTING CLOSE: The frustrating part for the Longhorns is they've had a good look at three upsets (K-State, Kansas and Baylor) with two of those on the road (K-State and Baylor) and have yet to close the deal.
The good news is Texas is getting close to pulling off an NCAA Tournament resume building win and needs to keep gaining confidence.
Sure, Texas can hang its head and focus on the negative (foul trouble for Clint Chapman and Myck Kabongo in the first half; the missed free throws; the 12-rebound deficit on the boards; and the questionable shot selection down the stretch).
Or it can focus on the positives: J'Covan Brown is a monster who, when he's on, will keep Texas in nearly every game; Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene had some strong moments on defense; Jonathan Holmes hit some nice shots and played with confidence in the first half; and Julien Lewis is turning in some strong defensive performances - Lewis had a career-high 4 steals while holding Pierre Jackson below his season averages.
(Now, if Lewis could just find his shot consistently - he was 0-of-6 from 3-point range and scored just 6 points in 35 minutes of action.
Lewis, who has started 15 games this season, has shot just 7 of 27, or 25.9 percent, in losses to Missouri, K-State, Kansas and Baylor. He is 2-of-15 from 3-point range the last five games or 13 percent.)
Even Kabongo showed glimpses of having taking another step in the second half after an utterly forgettable first half.
Yes, he had the foul trouble (and his second foul was egregious - 27 feet from the basket), causing him to play only 5 minutes in the first half.
That just can't happen to the point guard of the team. He has to be smarter than that and stay on the floor. He also had 4 of UT's 10 missed free throws for the game.
But Kabongo finished with 12 points - all in the second half - (including 2-of-2 from 3), 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 turnover, 1 steal and 1 block in just 21 minutes of action.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Texas was an underdog Saturday to the No. 6 team in the nation on the road and wasn't expected to win.
The Longhorns, who are unranked, played well on national TV. And, if anything, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee got a good look at J'Covan Brown, one of the country's best players, up-close and personal.
Brown scored 20 of his 32 in the second half.
Monday's game against No. 2 Missouri looms large because it could be a punch-your-ticket game as far as the NCAA tourney.
Texas has to build on the confidence of being close against these ranked opponents until it can get over the hump.
FINAL FOUR MINUTES: For those who missed the Baylor game or want to see how the final four minutes went down, here's how it went:
****J'Covan Brown 23 foot 3-pointer attempt. Miss. BU gets the ball and gets a good look at a 3 by Brady Heslip, but he misses. BU's Perry Jones III with the rebound. Texas fouls Jones, who makes both and puts BU up 66-63 w 3:21 left.
MY TAKE: Jones was a man for Baylor today (22 points, 14 rebounds). He got Clint Chapman into foul trouble immediately. Chapman, who played with so much grit and effort against Kansas, played only 3 minutes for Texas in the first half. And Jones took advantage with 12 points and 10 rebounds - AT HALFTIME. Chapman's absence was slightly mitigated by Baylor's Quincy Acy being in foul trouble and playing only 12 minutes in the first half (6 pts, 4 rebs; Acy would finish with 10 pts and 10 rebs). But Texas desperately needed Chapman on the floor to defend Perry Jones III early.
Back to the action …
****Kabongo had a wide open look from 3, then dribbled inside for a wide open look from 15 feet with 3 minutes left and shot an air ball. Julien Lewis got the rebound, passed to Kabongo, who then found Brown moving along the 3-point line for a nice 3 in rhythm while Pierre Jackson was chasing. That tied the game at 66 with 2:54 left.
****Then came maybe the biggest play of the final three minutes. For all the great defense Texas played Pierre Jackson, UT got caught in a switch between Wangmene and Lewis on Jackson, and Jackson took advantage of the split second he had to get off a 3 and drilled it.
That put Baylor up 69-66 and brought the sold out Ferrell Center to a frenzy. Jackson had been 1-of-6 on 3s up to that point, so it was a double dagger.
Texas got lucky on its next possession as the Longhorns nearly turned it over, but Wangmene somehow got a tie-up call while bear hugging BU's Brady Heslip on the floor.
Texas had the possession arrow, but J'Covan missed a 3-pointer with 2:13 to play, and Baylor's Quincy Acy rebounded the ball, and Lewis fouled him. Acy made both FTs, putting Baylor up 71-66.
****Acy made a spectacular play after Texas called timeout and then got the ball inside to Clint Chapman for an uncontested layup. But Acy came out of nowhere to palm the ball from behind, and block Chapman's layup with 1:58 to play. The ball then went out of bounds off of Jonathan Holmes.
****After a couple of made free throws by both Perry Jones and J'Covan Brown and a couple turnovers by both teams (J'Covan Brown and BU's Quincy Miller), it was Baylor leading 73-68 when Wangmene was fouled. He missed both free throws with 44 ticks on the clock.
But Julien Lewis made a great play for the offensive rebound and got the ball to Kabongo, who drove in for a layup, but BU's Quincy Miller appeared to get a piece of it, and Kabongo missed.
Clint Chapman came up with the offensive rebound and drew a foul by BU's Pierre Jackson. Chapman made both free throws, cutting Baylor's lead to 73-70 with 30 seconds to play.
****Kabongo then made a great steal on the baseline as BU tried to inbound the ball and drew the foul with 26 seconds left. It was the ideal scenario for Texas as the momentum appeared to be shifting, but Kabongo, a 65 percent FT shooter, missed the first FT and then made the second.
Instead of a one-point game, it's 73-71 Baylor.
****But Texas would get another break, when Brady Heslip, who was 15 of 15 on free throws for the season coming into the game, would miss the second of two free throws with 20 seconds left, making the score 74-71 and giving Texas a chance to tie with a 3 or get a 2 and foul.
J'Covan took a 3 from 23 feet with 11 seconds left, and Baylor's Perry Jones grabbed the rebound and quickly got it to point guard A.J. Walton, who was fouled by Clint Chapman.
Walton made both free throws with 7 seconds left, and Kabongo missed a layup at the buzzer. Ballgame.
****Barnes would say after the game that J'Covan's 3-point attempt with 11 seconds left wasn't a good look. J'Covan said, however, that Barnes couldn't see what he saw and that he thought it was a good look.
UP NEXT FOR TEXAS: Missouri on Monday at the Erwin Center at 8 p.m. on ESPN. Missouri beat Texas Tech at Mizzou Arena today, 63-50, in front of Dorial Green-Beckham. (The crowd even chanted "M-I-Z D-G-B!!" during the game).
Mizzou is 19-2 but proved vulnerable last week in losing a road game at Oklahoma State 79-72. Huge opportunity for Texas.