What started out as a promising game for Texas basketball and head coach Rodney Terry in essentially a "must-win" game in the Big 12 at home at the Moody Center turned sour quickly. Texas needed a win at home against the UCF Knights and head coach Johnny Dawkins to right the ship after dropping two of its first three games in conference play.
Texas looked great in the first half against UCF, jumping out to a double-digit lead in the first five minutes of the game. The Longhorns controlled the pace of play throughout the first half, taking a comfortable 44-32 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Rodney Terry and Texas basketball lose their second straight at home, 77-71 to UCF
But Terry's squad wasn't able to keep their foot on the gas in the second half. Key players who were hot shooting from the field in the first half, such as senior wing Ithiel Horton and senior big man Dylan Disu, cooled off in the final 20 minutes.
Texas also didn't get much of any contribution from the bench in either half of this game, which added to its problems in the final 20. UCF's bench outscored Texas's by a whopping margin of 27 points, as the Longhorns only mustered seven points from the reserves.
Led by junior guard Jaylin Sellers' 24 points and senior guard Shemarri Allen's 19, UCF stormed back in the second half to win the final 20 by a margin of 18. Allen and the Knights really couldn't miss in the second half as they shot 53 percent from the field and 89 percent from the charity stripe.
Texas suffered other major issues in this game, including getting dominated on the glass and in second-chance points. Tonight was Texas's worst rebounding performance of the season, getting beaten on the glass by UCF by a margin of 37-22.
As a result, UCF edged out Texas 15-5 in second-chance points in this game.
Those gritty details and overall execution made the difference down the stretch in this game for the Longhorns. Texas wasn't able to capitalize when they had their chances, and it cost them with their third loss in the last four to open up Big 12 play.
Despite holding a 62-53 lead with nine minutes remaining in the second half, Texas wound up falling short of the Knights by a score of 77-71. UCF went on a 24-9 run to close out this game with a win at the Moody Center over the Longhorns.
This is a pretty inexcusable loss for Terry's squad. UCF came in as nearly a double-digit underdog against the Longhorns on this night and was down by double digits for long decent stretches of this game.
Terry's squad in dire straits early in Big 12 play
For many Big 12 teams, it wouldn't be a reason to panic to start conference play 1-3. But when you were ranked in the AP Top 25 and had four straight unranked foes to open up the conference slate, such as Texas did this year, you can't afford to start Big 12 play 1-3.
Texas now faces a gauntlet against four straight ranked opponents in the next couple of weeks. Texas hosts the No. 9 Baylor Bears at the Moody Center this weekend before hitting the road for back-to-back games away from the 40 against the No. 15 Oklahoma Sooners and No. 20 BYU Cougars.
This four-game gauntlet rounds out against maybe the most difficult foe, on Jan. 29 at home against the No. 5 Houston Cougars.
Terry and staff better find answers quickly, or else this will be a tragic run in the Big 12 for the Longhorns this season. All but three of Texas's 14 remaining opponents on the conference schedule this season are ranked in the top 30 nationally in adjusted efficiency (according to Kenpom).
What looked like a team that could win at 11 or 12 games in the Big 12 this season just a couple of weeks ago has completely retracted. Texas will be pretty lucky to reach seven or eight wins in the Big 12, given the difficulty of the schedule the rest of the way during the regular season.