Longhorns retain Vols on return of Rick Barnes
Texas officials pulled out all the stops to welcome Rick Barnes to Austin.
The huge ‘Thank You Coach Barnes’ sign hanging outside the Erwin Center was an impressive start. It was the first thing Barnes and his Tennessee players saw as they got off the bus on Saturday.
“I got to see people that I really like,” the former Texas coach said. “I kind of grew old with a lot of them. But it was special, it really was.
Texas coaches and players wore special shirts, and a pregame video tribute was a special touch. The Longhorns even gave Barnes and his 18th-ranked Volunteers 16 points in the last five minutes or so, which makes him interesting. Or terrifying, depending on his preference for T-block logos.
Texas only scored one point in the final 5:32, but it was the game winner. UT’s Timmy Allen made the second of two free throws with 6.2 seconds left, and Tennessee’s Josiah-Jordan James missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Following:Thriving in Tennessee, Rick Barnes gets to see former Longhorns, Texas fans
The Horns escaped with a 52-51 win as Barnes’ comeback went off without a hitch, at least as far as the home side are concerned. Finally, Texas (16-5, 5-3 Big 12) has a win over a top-25 team and a three-game winning streak. The first sold-out crowd (16,540) since February 2016 certainly loved it too.
“We won the game. Nothing disappointing tonight in Austin, Texas,” Longhorns coach Chris Beard said. all-time winningest coach in the history of this program, so I don’t think there’s anything disappointing tonight.
Beard shouldn’t expect anything so sweet on his first trip back to Texas Tech on Tuesday. In Lubbock, Tech students were already setting up tents Saturday night to camp for Tuesday’s game. The atmosphere will be vicious there.
“We’re just focused on ourselves,” Allen said. “You know, there’s a lot of hate, a lot of rah-rah about it. But we enter the match with only one goal. We understand it will be a hostile environment, but we believe we are made for this.
Last Tuesday, Texas not only survived the harsh environment of Fort Worth, but thrived there. On Saturday, Tennessee (14-6, 5-3 SEC) increased the defensive pressure all the way in the sequence and Texas did not falter.
OK, so maybe the horns got unsightly tangled. Allen threw a sensational rebound pass to Andrew Jones for a layup. Courtney Ramey (18 points) swept a 3-pointer into the right corner. Then Allen scored again and Texas won 17 points.
Ramey’s up-and-down move gave Texas a 51-35 lead with 5:32 to go. Then the Vols got two quick buckets and James hit a 3-pointer. Suddenly Barnes’ group was back at less than nine o’clock. No worries, right?
Well, Zakai Zeigler hit a 3-pointer. And scored on a driving layup. And again breaking through the Texas defense for another bucket. Now the Vols were down two. Then McNeil product Victor Bailey Jr., who also has a homecoming moment, tied things up with an aggressive layup. Sip.
“We didn’t do a great job managing the lead,” Beard said. “But I would say we had balance and key moments.”
On Texas’ last possession, Allen recovered the ball about 10 feet from the basket. He tried a flip jumper which was no good, but got the offending call. He missed the first free throw but made the second after a timeout, giving Texas a one-point lead.
On Tennessee’s last possession, Barnes said, “We couldn’t ask for a better look.” Once James’ 3-pointer missed, UT’s Christian Bishop slapped the ball away from the rim as the horn sounded.
Texas shot 54% and went 7-for-16 to 3-pointers. Apart from the last five minutes, the Horns defense has been solid. The Vols shot 36% overall and only made five of 18 shots from long range.
“Interesting game, a lot to learn,” Beard said. “Always better to learn from a win.”
Afterwards, reporters from Tennessee wanted to know how the second half went. But Barnes couldn’t help it. He spoke at length about his return to Austin.
“I don’t think I could ever say I’m glad it’s over when I got to see so many beautiful, wonderful people who have been a big part of my life,” Barnes said.
“You know, I honestly missed seeing Leon Black here tonight. I miss Darrell Royal’s presence,” he added, referring to two deceased UT coaches. “I spoke to Mack (Brown), and I joked with him and said, ‘We can win the game and I’m going to come in here with you on FaceTime and let you speak to the media. But I miss all that. I miss Augie Garrido. I miss these guys.
Barnes let his grandson, Caleb, sit next to him on the Tennessee bench the entire game. Caleb’s birthday was Friday, and Barnes said, “I love him to death. He also knows that he has me where he wants me.
Now the story can be told. Barnes was previously invited to play Texas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, but it never went well. Maybe he didn’t want to face his Texas successor Shaka Smart for the past six seasons. But with Beard’s push to “Unite the Family” and it being the Erwin Center’s final year, Barnes felt different.
“Knowing they’re going to close the building,” Barnes said, “I said we had to.”
Maybe Barnes will come back to Austin a few more times when Texas moves into the SEC. Maybe by then it won’t be so emotional.
“We wish these guys the best, and just want to say to Coach Barnes that we love him,” Beard said, “and thank you for everything he’s done for Texas basketball and continues really do it.”