COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The historical significance of facing Texas A&M one last time in Reed Arena didn't matter to Texas.
The future does.
And that future is looking brighter, if only slightly, after the Longhorns notched their second straight victory with a 70-68 win over the Aggies in front of 9,792 fans Tuesday night. While the win certainly will not send the RPI soaring, it is a boost for a Texas team that struggled to a 3-6 record in the Big 12 during a rugged January. Now that the page has turned on the calendar, so too have Texas' fortunes. Texas finds itself 5-6 in the conference with a legitimate shot at pulling to .500 with a home win over Kansas State Saturday.
If Texas (15-9, 5-6) can manage a .500 record and win once in the Big 12 Tournament, its streak of consecutive NCAA tournament bids would remain alive at 14. It was assumed this young team would eventually mature. With this last-minute win, it appears Texas may have started to do just that.
“We just came together as a team and listened to the coaches,” Texas freshman Sheldon McClellan said. “Early on (in the season) we were doing things on our own and now we are focusing and doing things as a team.”
If anything, this was a team effort. J'Covan Brown led with 20 points, but when it came to the winning play, it was the team that stepped up. Trailing by one with less than a minute to go, Texas coach Rick Barnes called a timeout and drew up a play; one that Texas had never drawn up before. The “gate” play as Barnes dubbed it required two screens to be set, Brown to get through them, get the ball and get to the rim. All of it worked as Brown laid it in from the left side.
Suddenly, Texas, a team that was 0-7 in games decided by two possessions or less, had the win.
“It feels great to get out of that slump,” Brown said. “These young guys, they battle every day. You can see in their face they want to win and they want to get to that tournament.”
It was also evident in the play of the young Longhorns that this is a team, at least in this game and the last against Texas Tech that is carrying itself with more confidence.
“I didn't think at any point and time there was doubt,” Barnes said of his players. “Tonight we carried ourselves well even when things got going a little. When we got down, our guys stayed together.”
Texas never got too far down. But it never pulled away either. Twice the Longhorns grabbed nine-point leads. Twice Texas A&M came back to take the lead.
But unlike it had against Baylor, Missouri and Kansas, this time Texas was able to grab the lead and keep it.
“There were games when we would get a lead and couldn't get stops,” Barnes said. “We got a stop and that was the difference for us there at the end.”
Again that stop came through team effort as Alex Wangmene forced the ball out David Loubeau's hands and into Myck Kabongo’s.
Couple that type of defense with 58 percent shooting in the second half and it was just enough to get the team's first road win since UCLA in early December.
“A win like this it brings us together even more as a team,” said McClellan, who finished with 15 points.
Texas is going to need that togetherness if it wants to keep stringing wins together in the second half of the Big 12 season.