Seventh time’s a charm for Texas: Longhorns end their Big 12 tourney title drought with win against Oklahoma State

By Blair Kerkhoff
The Kansas City Star/TNS
The Texas Longhorns celebrate after a 91-86 triumph against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament championship game at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 13, 2021.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A Big 12 Tournament trophy belongs to Texas. Finally.

The Longhorns had come up short in six previous trips to the championship game. In the 25th year of the conference, Texas came through with a 91-86 triumph over Oklahoma State on Saturday at T-Mobile Center.

Third-seeded Texas, which earns the Big 12’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, held off freshman star Cade Cunningham and the Cowboys, who stayed close throughout the game but couldn’t pull off a second straight upset after beating top-seeded Baylor in the semifinals.

The championship comes a year after Longhorns coach Shaka Smart may have been on the hot seat. Texas was considered a bubble team heading into the postseason in 2020 and faced the prospect of missing the NCAA field for a second straight year and third time in four years.

The COVID-19 pandemic ended the postseason, and Smart returned nearly his entire team from a year ago. These Longhorns finished third in the Big 12, spent all season ranked in The AP poll - as high as No. 4 - and now head into the NCAA Tournament looking for their first victory there since 2014.

Guard Matt Coleman III and center Jericho Sims led the way for Texas (19-7). Coleman finished with a career-best 30, and Sims 21 points and 14 rebounds.

Cunningham worked hard to keep the Cowboys close. The coaches’ Big 12 player of the year finished with 29 points. He buried a pair of 3-pointers in the final 25 seconds to keep things tight.

But Cunningham and Oklahoma State had a rough first half. He collected his second foul with 13:40 remaining in the first half and played for several minutes before picking up his third on a blocking call. He left the game with 5:35 remaining in the half and didn’t return.

Texas led 31-25 after Andrew Jones buried two free throws. The lead swelled to as many as 14 before the Longhorns took a 43-33 edge at the break.

Besides Cunningham’s foul trouble, the Cowboys couldn’t connect from deep in the first half, missing all nine 3-point attempts.

Oklahoma State closed to 52-50 with 13:30 remaining, but that’s as close as the Cowboys got in the second half.

Texas soon restored a double-digit lead and made enough plays down the stretch to keep Oklahoma State at arm’s length.

The Longhorns had an easier path to the championship. They didn’t play a semifinal contest against second-seeded Kansas when the Jayhawks’ pulled out of the tournament after the quarterfinal round because of a positive COVID-19 test.

That didn’t make the championship any less sweet for Texas, which had lost the 2001 final to Oklahoma, in 2004 to Oklahoma State and to Kansas in 2006-08 and 2011.

The most painful of those losses occurred in 2007, when Kevin Durant scored 37 points and Texas led KU by 22 points in the first half before losing in overtime.

Coleman was named the tournament’s most outstanding player and was joined on the all-tournament team by Sims, Cunningham, Oklahoma State’s Avery Anderson III and Baylor’s MaCio Teague.