AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Desperation seems to be bringing out the best in Texas at a very important time.
J’Covan Brown scored 23 points and the Longhorns got a career effort from senior forward Alexis Wangmene to rally to a 75-64 victory over Kansas State on Saturday for their third win in a row after losing five of six.
Texas trailed by 15 early in the second half before Brown and a defensive clampdown sparked the rally. Brown made a deep 3-pointer to put the Longhorns ahead 56-54 with 8:20 to play.
“We didn’t panic, man,” said Texas freshman point guard Myck Kabongo, who sat on the bench most of the first half with foul trouble but came back in the second to help guide the offense in the rally.
The Longhorns certainly could have panicked. A team that needs every win it can get to build an NCAA tournament-worthy resume appeared ready to slip away when the Wildcats built their big lead. Texas is one of only six programs in the country to play in the last 13 NCAA tournaments and needs to keep the run going to ensure a 14th.
“It’s a great win,” Brown said. “(But) it’s time to go back to business. We’ve got a win streak going. We’ve got to stick together as a team.”
Texas (16-9, 6-6 Big 12) looked to be in disarray just two weeks ago when the Longhorns seemed to be finding ways to lose close games against teams in the top half of the Big 12. Now their confidence is brimming as the winning streak grows.
Brown, the Big 12’s leading scorer, keeps delivering the big baskets. Wangmene, a role player his entire career, had his first double-double with career highs of 15 points and 13 rebounds.
“I knew coming in this morning we had to be physical if we wanted to win this game,” Wangmene said.
Texas also had the benefit of 33 fouls called against Kansas State, and the Longhorns made 35 of 48 free throws. The Wildcats were just 8 of 12 and never got to the line in the second half.
When asked about the discrepancy, Kansas State coach Frank Martin said: “I didn’t officiate. You’d have to ask them.”
Angel Rodriguez scored 15 points for Kansas State (17-7, 6-6), but the point guard also had six of his team’s 16 turnovers.
The Wildcats had their chances to put this one away and pick up their own key late-season victory.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Will Spradling, Rodney McGruder and Spradling again over the final 2 minutes of the first half put Kansas State up 40-27. Spradling’s second 3-pointer from the left wing came with just 1 second left on the shot clock and 26 seconds to go in the half.
Texas shot 28 percent in the half and did not make a basket over the final 8:53, scoring its last six points on free throws.
But Kansas State quickly ran into foul trouble in the second half. Forwards Thomas Gipson and Jordan Henriquez both picked up their fourth fouls in the early minutes of the half. Texas came roaring back behind a 13-0 run that cut Kansas State’s lead to 44-43 on Sheldon McClellan’s dunk off a slashing baseline drive.
“They came out in the second half and punched us in the mouth,” Martin said. “They punched us again and again and again, and we never punched back.”
Kansas State briefly stepped on the momentum behind a 3-pointer by Martavious Irving, but Texas finally grabbed the lead at 56-54 when Brown made a 3-pointer with 8:20 to play.
The Wildcats never led again. Sloppy play by Rodriguez led to turnovers, and Wangmene muscled the Wildcats out from under the basket to grab rebounds and prevent a rally.
McGruder, who scored 33 against Texas in a Kansas State win on Jan. 18, finished with just 11 points Saturday, none in the second half. The Wildcats shot 32 percent after halftime.
“They protected their home court,” Martin said. “They took it to us, and we didn’t handle that very well.”