March Madness 2010: Last-Second Loss a Fitting End for Texas

Dino NicandrosAnalyst IMarch 19, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - MARCH 18:  Damion James #5 of the Texas Longhorns shoots the ball over Ishmael Smith #10 and Tony Woods #55 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the first round of the 2010 NCAA men�s basketball tournament at the New Orleans Arena on March 18, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The clock was ticking.

Clinging to just a one point lead following two missed free throws by Gary Johnson, the Texas Longhorns were just seconds away from outlasting Wake Forest and moving on to the second round. All they needed was one stop.

A fade-away jumper later, Texas' hopes of finally finding a measure of success amidst their epic collapse came crashing down.

All senior Damion James could do was watch in disbelief from the bench after fouling out just minutes before.

The first day of the NCAA Tournament saw an array of thrilling overtime contests and epic buzzer-beaters, and Wake Forest-Texas followed suit.

The way the game ended for the Longhorns was shocking to those of us who put so much faith in them week in and week out, even when they aren't playing up to expectations, but it's the fact that they haven't played up to expectations in well over a month that makes the end of that game seem fitting.

Texas struggled all game long containing the speedy Ishmael Smith, as he was able to rip through the lane and bury open jumpers.  The guy was unstoppable, finishing with 19 points (including the game winner), 12 rebounds, and seven assists.

Deacan star forward Al-Farouq Aminu made his presence felt as well, plowing his way to 20 points and 15 rebounds.

The Longhorns trailed by double figures twice during regulation, but they managed to dig their way back into the game in the closing minutes, riding the backs of Damion James and J'Covan Brown.

Enter free throw shooting woes.

Given a chance to perhaps win the game in the final nine seconds, Damion James walked to the free throw line.  The first attempt hit the back of the rim, but managed to roll in to the basket.  The second bounced off the rim.

It is worth noting that Texas shot a pathetic 63 percent from the charity stripe this season, so it's really no big surprise that they were unable to close it out when it mattered most.

In the opening moments of overtime, the Longhorns thundered out to a commanding eight point lead following back-to-back threes by J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton.

"Big Mo" was firmly on Texas' side heading in to the final two minutes.

Enter more free throw shooting woes.

With the lead cut to four in the final 30 seconds, J'Covan Brown (90 percent from the line), was fouled and given two shots to stretch the Texas lead back to six.

He missed both.

The Deacans hurried back down the court and Ari Smith was left all alone in the corner.  He buried the three.

With the Texas lead at just one point, Gary Johnson was fouled on the other end, sending him to the line for two and a chance to make it a three point game.

This is getting ridiculously predictable, isn't it?

Johnson missed both miserably, and the rest is history.

Those two missed free throws summed up an inexplicable season for Texas.

In January, we were all discussing how dominant Texas looked and whether they could truly win it all.

After starting 17-0, the Longhorns plummeted quickly, and we were left to discuss whether they deserved the rather generous No. 8 seed they received.

This is simply the case of a talented group of players who never quite figured out how to play as a team, despite every attempt by their head coach to motivate and teach them.

It was the kind of season where you scratch your head and wonder what could have been had this "team" realized its tremendous potential.  I guess that's why they call it March Madness.  Watching the Longhorns fall as quickly as they did was maddening for the burnt orange faithful.

I'll admit, I've been the ultimate optimist.  I half expected this team to finally come together and play as a team.  I expected them to fix issues in one week that have been tormenting them for the last six weeks.

I should have known it was going to end like this, and you have to think that somehow Rick Barnes knew it too.

A team can't succeed when they play mediocre defense, take bad shots, and miss key free throws down the stretch. Period.

The Longhorns have been guilty of all three in their late-season slump.  Whether it was the inexperienced freshmen, the injury to Dogus Balbay, or the college basketball gods demanding some kind of tribute is irrelevant.  This group gave up a long time ago.

It's a real shame.  You wanna root for guys like Damion James and Dexter Pittman.  You don't see a whole lot of fourth-year players with as much talent as these two.  They had chances to go pro, but they stayed put because they cared enough about the team and bringing some kind of championship home to Austin.

They ended their Texas careers empty-handed.

So now Rick Barnes can head into the offseason and ponder what might have been.  I can imagine he'll be losing a lot of sleep in the coming nights.

Despite all the recent gloom and doom, the future will always be bright in Austin becuase 1). Rick Barnes is still a very good head coach who will figure out a way to get this program back on track and 2). The talent level at Texas will always be top-notch.

It was just one of those years where you're left saying, "Maybe next year..."