AUSTIN, Texas (AP)Thomas Dziagwa and Cameron McGriff each scored 19 points and Oklahoma State ended Texas’ late-season surge with an 81-59 win Saturday, delivering a tough blow to Longhorns’ chances to make the NCAA Tournament and raising new questions about Shaka Smart’s future beyond this season.
The Longhorns appeared to have rescued both with an impressive five-game win streak that included two against ranked opponents. The winning seemed to be turning the conversation on Smart, whose job has been under intense scrutiny after five underachieving seasons.
Then the Longhorns (19-12, 9-9 Big 12) delivered a dud at a critical time as the Cowboys (17-14, 7-11) opened up a 22-point lead by halftime and cruised to an easy victory.
”Today I feel like we were the opposite of who we’ve been the last five games,” Smart said. ”It’s really, really disappointing.”
Oklahoma State dominated on the boards for long stretches, easily penetrated the lane for layups and made just about any shot they wanted. Isaac Likekele added 15 points for the Cowboys, who ended the regular season playing their best basketball. Oklahoma State has won three in a row and four of their last five after an 0-8 start in league play.
”We are blossoming at the right time We are playing really good basketball,” Dzaigwa said.
Dziagwa poured in four 3-pointers in the first half as the Cowboys built a 43-21 lead on 61% shooting. Texas shot just 25% in the half and looked tight in front of its biggest home crowd of the season expecting a win.
”If you get down big early there’s still a ton of time to play. We were emploring our guys to just go play basketball,” Smart said. ”But you could see it on their faces early when they got up big. They couldn’t believe this was happening.”
Texas shot better in the second half by trading baskets with the Cowboys but that left little room for a rally. The Longhorns got within 69-49 with just under eight minutes to play but the deficit was too big to overcome.
Kai Jones led Texas with 20 points and Matt Coleman III scored 18.
The Longhorns looked like the team that was 4-8 in the Big 12 three weeks ago, and the loss renewed questions about and for Texas both externally and internally.
Even at .500 in the Big 12, the Longhorns flopped at a crucial time. And while they battle for a postseason berth at next week’s Big 12 tournament, athletic director Chris Del Conte faces a decision on Smart’s future.
Smart is 40-50 in Big 12 play and has finished above .500 in conference just once in five seasons. Texas has already missed the NCAA Tournament twice in his tenure and doesn’t have a win the two years the Longhorns made it.
Texas likely needs to find a win or two in the Big 12 tournament to boost its postseason chances.
”I don’t know where everyone else stands,” for the NCAA Tournament, Smart said. ”There’s eight days until selection Sunday… our mentality has to be to help ourselves and the way to do that is keep winning. Our plan is to go up there and be the more aggressive team.”
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys head into the conference tournament on a hot streak and could be a perfect spoiler next week if the hot shooting continues.
Texas: The Longhorns’ injury-riddled lineup is down to eight scholarship players as they limp into the Big 12 tournament. The two players who had charged up the offense in the win streak, guards Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey, combined for just 13 points Saturday.
Texas will note its slim roster, but Oklahoma State used only eight players most of the game as well. Coach Mike Boyton emptied his bench with 56 seconds left. The Cowboys had four players score in double figures.
Both teams play in next week’s Big 12 tournament.
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