November 21, 2011
Texas was coasting to a comfortable victory over NC State with just over eight minutes left in the second half on Monday night when star guard J'Covan Brown lost his composure at a very inopportune time.
First, he committed his fourth foul vying for a steal underneath the basket. Then picked up his fifth arguing the call with a referee on his way back to the bench.
"That's where he needs to grow up," Texas coach Rick Barnes told reporters after the game. "You can't do that. It's not about him. He ought to have it figured out by now."
With Brown relegated to the bench and powerless to help his inexperienced teammates, NC State launched a frantic comeback and Texas crumbled without its leading scorer and emotional leader. The Wolfpack outscored Texas 23-2 in the first six minutes after Brown fouled out, part of a 28-2 spurt that transformed a seemingly insurmountable 18-point NC State deficit into a shocking 77-74 victory.
Texas' inability to regain its poise and thwart the NC State comeback highlights how reliant the freshman-laden Longhorns are on Brown, the leading returning scorer on a team that lost a trio of underclassmen to the NBA. The junior guard averaged 29.3 points in Texas' first three games and had 17 before fouling out Monday, but none of his teammates were able to pick up the slack in his absence.
Highly touted freshman point guard Myck Kabongo had a golden opportunity to prove he could run the team, but he scored just one point on Monday and looked reticent to shoot even before Brown fouled out. Fellow freshmen Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan at least tried to pick up the scoring slack, but neither were able to generate enough open looks to quell NC State's momentum.
Texas made just 2 of 12 field-goal attempts after Brown fouled out with 8:25 remaining, both layups by McClellan. The Longhorns had two chances to tie the game in the final 30 seconds, but both possessions resulted in airballs on contested threes.
Credit NC State for its resilience under first-year coach Mark Gottfried, but most of the discussion generated from the game will be about Texas and not the Wolfpack. The Longhorns have now dropped two straight to a pair of teams considered fringe NCAA tournament contenders at best, not exactly a great sign for a program that has UCLA, Temple and North Carolina left on its schedule even before the start of Big 12 play.
Texas is too talented not to be taken seriously as a threat in the Big 12, but youth and immaturity are definitely concerns. Either Brown has to display the maturity expected from a leader and the freshmen need to be able to step up when called upon, or it may be difficult for the Longhorns to return to the NCAA tournament again.