AUSTIN, Texas — Southland Conference men's basketball teams on the road have been a pain for major college basketball teams to deal with this week.
On Tuesday, Stephen F. Austin went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and upset No. 1 Duke. On Saturday afternoon, McNeese State couldn't quite pull off the weekly double for the SLC, but the Cowboys came within inches of upsetting Texas as the Longhorns of the Big 12 held on for a 73-71 victory at the Frank C. Erwin Jr. Special Events Center.
The Cowboys' Leondre Washington missed a 3-point shot with 3 seconds remaining after Courtney Ramey made two free throws with 8.4 seconds left to give the Longhorns the winning points.
"Come to a place like Texas and you got a shot to win it, you can't ask for much more than that," said McNeese head coach Heath Schroyer, adding that he thought Washington's potential winning shot was good from his vantage point on the sideline. "I thought our guys really competed.
"I thought we were scrappy. I thought we played extremely hard. I thought our game plan was right. They're a bear to score against. We really spaced the floor and I thought we did some really good things."
The first month of the season has been rough on McNeese, which ended the month with a 2-6 record and no road wins or wins over Division I opposition. The Cowboys have lost two in a row.
But, just like when the Cowboys played at New Mexico on Nov. 16, they were within a possession of tying or taking the lead with less than a minute to play.
"McNeese deserves a lot of credit," Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. "They came in here with a level of aggressiveness and had some guys play really, really well."
A year ago to the day, Radford left Austin with a 62-59 upset of the 17th-ranked Longhorns. Smart was quick to remind this players of that fact against McNeese.
Ramey and Andrew Jones led Texas (6-1) with 14 points each. Jericho Sims finished with a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Six-foot-8, 220-pound Sha'Markus Kennedy was a force in the paint for the Cowboys, hurting Texas with a game-high 22 points. Washington came off the bench and followed with 17 points. Three-point specialist Dru Kuxhausen scored 12, but he missed a driving layup with 9 seconds left and then fouled Ramey.
Neither team built a large lead. McNeese's largest lead was four and Texas' was six.
Cowboys guard A.J. Lawson got going offensively. Unfortunately for McNeese, he got into foul trouble and had to sit on the bench for most of the first half. The blessing in disguise that resulted was Washington, who scored seven first-half points and seemed to calm the offense with his floor leadership.
When Lawson left the floor, Kennedy stepped up and carried the scoring load for the Cowboys. McNeese took good shots at the rim thanks to some pick-and-rolls that lured the Texas big men out of the paint. At one point, the Cowboys had three dunks in four possessions, one in transition and the other two in the half court.
Texas led 37-31 thanks to a Jase Febres 3-pointer. But Washington went down and hit a 3 right before the halftime buzzer sounded to cut the Longhorns lead to 37-34.
While McNeese remained competitive throughout. One category that Texas dominated in was offensive rebounds. UT collected 18 offensive rebounds to McNeese's five.
"I thought the difference in the game was the offensive glass," Schroyer said. "They just ate us up."
There were multiple possessions that the Cowboys got a defensive stop, only to see Texas to get one or two offensive rebounds and wind up with a bucket.
Just like the first half, the second half was a battle. To make things more difficult for McNeese, Lawson picked up his fourth foul with less than 4 minutes gone in the second half. Instead of trying to beat Texas at its own game with more size, the Cowboys elected to go smaller to try and keep the bigs off the glass.
The strategy worked and kept McNeese within striking distance. Texas' largest second-half lead was four. The teams traded buckets and quick runs, but never anything to truly seize control.
Down four late in the game, McNeese went on a five-point run for a 69-68 lead when Washington hit a step-back 3. But Texas responded with a 3 from Jones.
Coming out of a timeout, McNeese tied the score at 71 when Kennedy rebounded a missed Kuxhausen 3 and laid it back in. The Cowboys got a defensive stop, but in the closing seconds Kuxhausen drove and missed a layup and then fouled, setting up Ramey for his clutch free throws.
Texas called timeout to set up its defense. Washington had the ball in his hands and stopped behind the 3-point arc and put up the shot. The shot missed and the Longhorns escaped with the victory.