INDIANAPOLIS -- — Abilene Christian and its frantic, havoc-causing defense bounced coach Shaka Smart and Texas out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round yet again, as the 14th-seeded Wildcats stunned the third-seeded Longhorns 53-52 on Saturday night.
Joe Pleasant, a 58.8% foul shooter on the season, made a pair of free throws with 1.2 seconds left, and the Wildcats shocked their in-state rivals in the first meeting between the schools.
Pulling off one final upset in a first round filled with two years’ worth of excitement, Abilene Christian became the fourth team seeded 13th or lower to reach the round of 32 in this NCAA Tournament, joining 15th-seeded Oral Roberts and No. 13 seeds Ohio and North Texas.
The Wildcats caused all kinds of headaches for the bigger, more talented Longhorns and got just enough offense to pull off their first NCAA Tournament victory in their second appearance.
Pleasant finished with 11 points as did Coryon Mason for the Wildcats. Abilene Christian will face No. 11 seed UCLA in the second round Monday.
Andrew Jones scored 13 points for Texas (23-5) and was nearly the hero. Jones hit two free throws with 56 seconds left and his 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining put the Longhorns in front 52-51.
ACU had one more chance. Damien Daniels drove to the basket but his shot was blocked by Kai Jones. Pleasant was first to get his hands on the rebound and Matt Coleman III was called for a foul, causing Smart to drop to his knees on the sideline.
After a timeout, Pleasant calmly hit both free throws. Then he intercepted a final desperation pass by Texas at midcourt, turning it into the Longhorns' 23rd turnover of the game and setting off a wild celebration that spilled off the court.
Pleasant waved his arms toward the crowd, egging on fans to make some noise and cupping his hand to his ear before being mobbed by teammates. Other players flexed toward ACU supporters in the stands of Lucas Oil Stadium that were definitely not socially distanced during the celebration.
There were heroes throughout for the Wildcats. Daniels, all of 5-foot-7 and 140 pounds, missed his first eight shot attempts but muscled through a foul to score on a drive with 3:42 left. The three-point play gave the Wildcats a 50-47 lead. Reggie Miller made one of two free throws to push the lead to four.
Texas went nearly four minutes without scoring before two free throws by Jones with 56 seconds left — foul shots that needed a pause to clean blood off the court.
Miller committed a turnover on ACU’s next possession and Jones’ 3 seemed set to be a perfect March moment after the Texas junior missed time earlier in his career after being diagnosed with leukemia.
Instead, the Longhorns are headed home with their third first-round exit under Smart, which will only raise the heat on his standing in Austin.
Texas was rolling coming into the NCAA Tournament after winning the Big 12 Tournament for the first time in school history. The Longhorns had won five straight overall and eight of 10 following a midseason slump.
But the Longhorns were too careless and too impatient against the Wildcats' swarming defense.
It was ugly, physical basketball, exactly the formula for the Wildcats to pull off the upset. They had the seventh-best scoring defense in the country this season, giving up just 60 points per game. They smothered Nicholls State in the Southland Conference title game, holding them to 45 points in a 34-point victory.
Texas was held 23 points below its season average. The 23 turnovers were a season high, and the Longhorns took 27 fewer shots than ACU.
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