The nice thing about playing a bad seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament is that you can bring less than your A game and still squeak through into the round of 32. But on Saturday night, the third-seeded Texas Longhorns men’s team brought their F-minus game against the Southland Conference champion Abilene Christian Wildcats, and as a result, they got bounced in a tough-to-watch 53-52 upset. Nobody in the entire field of 68—not the lowly 16-seeds or the molasses-slow Virginia losers—scored less than Texas did in Indy in the final game of the tourney’s opening salvo. The entire late-night failure was almost as good an argument for abolishing college basketball as any well-written takedown of the word “amateur,” and, if nothing else, it was a spot-on manifestation of Albert’s cranky tweet from Friday afternoon.
Texas’s futility is not explained by the obvious assumption from a scoreline like this—that they bricked a bunch of shots. In fact, they almost exactly matched their season averages by going 45 percent from the field and 35 percent from three. No, the Longhorns undid themselves by mistakenly believing they were playing a 40-minute long game of fetch with their pet dog, throwing the ball away a season-high 23 times and shooting an incredible 27 fewer shots than their opponents.
Though this was in part a remarkable example of an underdog team in Abilene Christian holding on to their strengths against much stiffer competition—their defense actually led the whole country in turnovers per possession this year—Texas’s status as the tournament champion in the NCAA’s second-best conference means that they deservedly shoulder the blame and embarrassment for blowing a game that they were very much supposed to win.
I have about seven different reasons for not making you watch almost two dozen terrible basketball mistakes all in a row, but I do want to highlight what I thought was Texas’s absolute nadir, which came with a minute to go and the ‘Horns down four. It’s … well, it’s a guy dribbling the ball off his foot. That’s all I have to say.
Abilene Christian constantly failed to capitalize on all these blunders, and in fact looked to still be heading home during the game’s final moments. After a four-and-a-half minute stretch without a field goal, the Longhorns somehow managed to pull out in front with 16 seconds remaining, as top scorer Andrew Jones nailed a three that made it 52-51.
But a big hack by Texas’s Matt Coleman on Joe Pleasant during a chaotic sequence under the basket just before time expired gave the Wildcats the break they needed to steal the win. Pleasant, a 59.8 percent free throw shooter on the year, went to the line and confidently hit both, providing the game with its 53-52 final score.
“It just doesn’t feel real. I feel like I’m trying to wake up from a bad dream,” Coleman said afterward.
Abilene Christian’s win makes them, unbelievably, the second school in as many days to pull off an upset over a gigantic public university while maintaining campus-wide bans on gay or premarital sex and cleavage, among plenty of other sins. Maybe these freaks are on to something.