DALLAS (AP)—Brandon Mouton refused to let the Texas Longhorns skid into the NCAA tournament.
Mouton hit a layup and three free throws in the final 26.8 seconds, capping No. 11 Texas’ comeback from a 12-point deficit with 7:09 left and sending the Longhorns into the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament with a 66-63 victory over Oklahoma on Friday night.
Texas (22-6) came in having lost two straight, with leading scorer Mouton putting up just 15 points in those games. Another loss would’ve marked the Longhorns’ worst streak starting 0-4 in coach Rick Barnes’ first season in November 1998 and probably would’ve hurt their NCAA seeding.
Instead, Texas pulled out a victory that Barnes hopes “will give us a kick.” He’ll find out Saturday when the Longhorns play in a semifinal against No. 18 Kansas, a 94-69 winner over Missouri.
“We found a way to do it,” Barnes said. “That’s been the story of this team. You’ve got to embrace this and love it. It’s tournament time.”
Oklahoma won the last three Big 12 tournament titles, but with teams that were eyeing long NCAA runs. These Sooners came to Dallas in an 8-9 rut that included losses to Texas by 29 and five points. They knew they’d have to string together several wins for a 10th straight NCAA appearance.
“It’s been a good run,” coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We’ve never come to this tournament needing to win to get to the NCAA like this team did, and it was fun.”
After beating Nebraska in the opening round, Oklahoma (19-10) got ahead of the Longhorns early in the first half, then stretched it to 58-46 with time running out and Sooners fans fired up about a possible upset.
Texas tied it at 59 and 61, but couldn’t get ahead. Oklahoma had a chance to go up by five with 44 seconds left, but De’Angelo Alexander badly missed a 3-point attempt.
The Longhorns got the ball to Mouton and he drove through the center of the lane for a layup that tied it at 63. He was fouled on the play and his free throw put Texas ahead for the first time since 17-16.
“Teammates screamed for me to take it,” Mouton said. “I had a great driving lane and I took it.”
Then Oklahoma’s 5-foot-7 point guard Drew Lavender tried backing down defenders in the lane when he lost the ball on a spin move, leaving it behind him. When he went to retrieve it, he knocked the ball to Mouton, who was quickly fouled with 5.8 seconds left. He made both shots.
“Those were some clutch free throws,” teammate Jason Klotz said. “We’re proud that he had the guts to step up and make those.”
The Sooners gave Lavender the final shot, a running 3-pointer, but it came up short.
OU went 3-of-7 from the line during its collapse. Oklahoma’s final field goal came with 3:13 left and the final points were with 1:29 to go.
“They made the plays down the stretch, we did not,” said Jason Detrick, OU’s only senior. “We had all the chances, but did not take advantage of them.”
Still, the Sooners can be proud of how they played under difficult circumstances. After all, they have only eight players, four of them freshman. Two fouled out and three others played with four fouls.
“Our margin of error was not wide,” Sampson said. “You can analyze it, dice it, chop it, splice it all you want. A play here or there and Oklahoma wins the game.”
Alexander led the Sooners with 15 points, Brandon Foust had 11 and Detrick scored 10. Lavender had eight, with five turnovers.
Texas freshman P.J. Tucker matched Mouton with 16 points, his most in 15 games, but fouled out with 1:29 left. Klotz made all five of his shots and scored 13 in his first start since the opener.
The comeback was the biggest of the season for UT, topping a 10-point rally over Texas Tech. In that 62-61 victory, Mouton forced overtime with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. He also had a streak of five straight 20-plus games in February before his recent cold stretch.
“He’s a big person in terms of the way he carries himself,” Barnes said. “Our players know he’s going to compete, even when he struggles.”
The Longhorns have now beaten their Red River rivals five straight times, extending their longest streak in the series. Oklahoma had won the previous eight. OU also had knocked UT out of the conference tournament four of the last six years.
Coming off a season-low 48 points against Kansas State, Texas made seven of its first nine shots and led 17-12. Then Oklahoma went on a 12-0 run and remained in front—until the final minute.