Jericho Sims

Photo Credit: Angela Wang | Daily Texan Staff

Nine short days ago, the Longhorns were on the NCAA Tournament bubble fighting for their lives. 

Texas needed two wins in its final three regular season games, and a late-season toe injury to freshman forward Mo Bamba threatened to derail any shot at a tournament bid. 

But the injury to Bamba hasn’t been all bad for the Longhorns.

Texas rose to the occasion, winning two of its final three games. In the process, the Longhorns also found a future star: freshman forward Jericho Sims.

“My future is bright,” Sims said. “I am going to have a good career here. I’m just going to keep having to, whether it is this season or the season after that, just keep on improving each year.”

Fans were treated to the Sims show on Saturday as Texas upset then-No. 20 West Virginia at home in the final game of the regular season. There, Sims rocked the rim on not one but five separate occasions, any of which could have been featured on ESPN’s nightly highlight reel. 

Sims has emerged, not just as a stand-in, but as a formidable force in his own right. 

Texas head coach Shaka Smart sees it — and coaches around the Big 12 see it, too.

“Sims is going to be really, really, really, really good in the not too distant future,” Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton Jr. said after Texas’ 65-64 win over the Cowboys in Austin on Feb. 24. “Shows you the type of job Shaka has done in continuing to recruit high-level guys. So even when a guy who is likely going to be a top-five pick goes down, you can still find a way to sustain and overcome.”

Sims is averaging 13 points and seven rebounds in his last three games while shooting 69 percent from the floor. On Monday, he was named the Big 12 newcomer of the week. 

Bamba, the team’s transcendental talent, averages 13 points and 10 rebounds on the season. 

Sims has been more efficient than Bamba while maintaining similar production. He has even matched Bamba’s ability to get the crowd involved with awe-inspiring plays. 

Sims and Bamba came to Texas under very different circumstances. Sims is the future of Texas — a raw talent with a high ceiling. Bamba is a one-and-done prospect for whom the 40 Acres is a brief stop before professional play. 

Sims is remarkably soft-spoken for a guy standing nearly 7 feet tall. He is a man of few words, but he maintains an air of quiet confidence. Sims and Smart have developed a close relationship off the court. 

And that relationship was a big reason why Sims chose Texas. 

“(Shaka) has described it like coaches are like parents,” Sims said. “And I think that is very true. I think that he has really made me feel comfortable here — Texas away from home. One of the reasons I came here was because I thought he was kind of like me, a guy I could relate to.”

Coming out of Minneapolis’ Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Sims had to transition from competing against small-school, Division 1A talent to facing off with the top centers every week in the deepest conference in the nation. 

Smart joked that the teams Sims played against back in Minnesota looked like “me and four of you guys,” gesturing to reporters. 

Even compared to the other freshman, Sims acknowledged that his transition was particularly difficult. A fact that has made his rapid development all the more remarkable. 

Smart has pushed Sims hard to make that happen.

“He is just scratching the tip of what he is going to be able to do,” Smart said. “He’s had a good amount of opportunity his freshman year, but it is a whole different story when Mo is not in there. Now you need him in there 30-something minutes a game, and I think that he has really embraced that. I like the way he’s attacked things.”

The team’s forwards have pushed each other as well. The group often competes one-on-one during practice. Sims said Bamba or junior forward Dylan Osetkowski usually win — but not always. 

“Sometimes I win,” Sims said with a smile. 

Sims’ teammates know what he is capable of, and they aren’t surprised by his breakout. After Sims’ recent success, junior guard Kerwin Roach II issued a warning to the rest of the conference that the flourishing forward isn’t going anywhere. 

In fact, he’s just getting started. 

“I always tell Jericho that he is cold,” Roach said. “Mo is out, but Jericho is going to step up in his place and he is going to make some noise. And you are going to see his name a lot. So be ready for it.”

Photo Credit: Angela Wang | Daily Texan Staff

It was a movie that many Texas and Oklahoma State fans have seen before — but the sequel reversed the roles.

On Jan. 13 in Stillwater, Texas led Oklahoma State by double digits in the second half, but a late Cowboys’ run swung the entire momentum of the game. On the final shot of the game, Oklahoma State claimed an unlikely 65-64 victory.

Down 64-63 as the seconds dwindled down on Saturday afternoon at the Frank Erwin Center, Texas junior shooting guard Kerwin Roach II navigated around the court, then crossed over on a dime and pursued the basket driving down the left side of the hardwood. A potential shot-blocker, Oklahoma State power forward Mitchell Solomon, stood in his way. Roach switched to the right hand mid-air to avoid Solomon and finished with an acrobatic, buzzer-beating layup with 1.2 seconds left.

Against all odds, Texas escaped a dramatic afternoon with an identical 65-64 victory.

“Coach just believed in me to go ahead and play and get the winning bucket,” Roach said. “At one point, I thought I (had to give it up), but I just wanted to see what I could do.”

The Longhorns’ bizarre win over Oklahoma State on Saturday can best be described as a pitch-black indoor roller coaster. Right when it seemed as if the Longhorns (17–12, 7–9 Big 12) would plummet into the ground, a launch of momentum would springboard them right back into the game. But at the final buzzer, Texas rose out of a freefall, gaining enough energy to claim its 17th win.

“In a lot of ways, it was the opposite of what happened at their place,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “Our guys did a good job of staying together down the stretch. We had some different lineups in there that we hadn’t played a lot this year, and we just were able to make one more play.”

Texas came out flat at the beginning of each half. The Longhorns didn’t register their first field goal of the game until the 15:01 mark of the first half. Texas eventually rallied to lead by eight points, but an Oklahoma State three at the first-half buzzer to make the score 33-28 sparked the start of a dominant Cowboys’ run.

Texas’ second half somehow started worse. Freshman forward Jericho Sims’ free throws with 16:34 left were the team’s first points of the half, but Texas’ first field goal didn’t even occur until junior power forward Dylan Osetkowski scored on a post move with 13:07 left. During those seven minutes, Oklahoma State spurred a 17-2 run to secure a lead as great as 10 points.

“To start the second half, there was one stretch of the game where the spirit got away from us,” Smart said. “We didn’t have the same energy and they were able to get on a run. When they got up 10, we fought back and guys made plays.”

But after all of the energy had seemingly drained, Texas recovered once more. With the absence of freshman center Mo Bamba (toe injury) in the second half, unlikely heroes, including Sims and sophomore shooting guard Jacob Young, helped claw Texas back to tie the game. A jumper by freshman point guard Matt Coleman vaulted the Longhorns ahead with 3:09 left.

“Stepping up is just my role,” Young said. “I have to step up because Andrew’s not here, Mo is out, Eric Davis is out. They basically just picked me up and allowed me to do that.”

The final 100 seconds ushered in six lead changes, as the two teams traded floaters and close jumpers to steal one-point leads from each other. Oklahoma State point guard Kendall Smith converted go-ahead shots on back-to-back possessions, including one to lift the Cowboys ahead, 64-63, with 22 seconds left.

But a determined Roach provided closing duties. Despite his 4-for-14 day from the floor, Roach didn’t waver as he converted a game-winner for the ages, turning the Erwin Center from a silent house into a grounds for celebration in the Longhorns’ penultimate home game of the season.

Photo Credit: Angela Wang | Daily Texan Staff

Exactly one week ago at the Frank Erwin Center, the Longhorns upset then-No. 16 TCU in double overtime in what proved to be one of the more thrilling games in program history.

Three days later, the team fell to Oklahoma State on the road in disappointing fashion, surrendering a 12-point lead down the stretch with two of its starting guards, sophomore Andrew Jones and junior Kerwin Roach II, still sidelined.

The disparity in endings from the two contests just days apart highlights the narrow margin for error Texas finds itself playing with. Given the seven-man rotation, a poor performance by any Longhorn can mean the difference between a win and a loss in a fiercely competitive Big 12 conference.

“To win against really good teams in this league, with the guys we have out, you’re going to have to have the majority of our guys play well on a given night,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “And that’s what we had against TCU."

“Jericho (Sims) played well. Jase (Febres) played well and gave us eight early points. And of course Matt (Coleman) and Mo (Bamba) and Dylan (Osetkowski) — they all played well. And even then it took double overtime. So when you’re down a couple of guys, that’s what it’s got to be.”

Texas hopes to recapture the energy of the TCU win as it hosts No. 8 Texas Tech on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Red Raiders are coming off a home win over then-No. 2 West Virginia, where they erased a late deficit much like the lead Texas saw disappear against Oklahoma State.

With a deep roster of returning talent, including four seniors, the physicality of the Texas Tech matchup could be a problem for a Texas team that lately has been starting all freshmen except one.

“There is something to be said for having guys — whether they’ve played for another coach or not — guys that have been in college and have winning experience and experience in the Big 12,” Smart said. “(Texas Tech) last year had a really good group of juniors that you knew this year were going to be a special team.”

The Longhorns’ lack of depth has forced the coaching staff to experiment with more unconventional lineups. Smart has opened the past two games with the big-man trio of Sims, Osetkowski and Bamba all starting.

While Osetkowski has demonstrated an ability to create and distribute like a guard, Texas’ lack of shooting has largely negated one of its strongest advantages: the interior. Opposing teams have the luxury of leaving the forwards open on the perimeter as they collapse on any post-up opportunity the Longhorns may create.

“Depending on who else you have in the game, teams may or may not have to guard our guys,” Smart said. “So for instance, when we have the bigger lineup in, the defenders are going to be sitting in (Osetkowski’s) lap, if not double- or triple-teaming him with Mo and Jericho’s men.”

The smaller rotation has been beneficial to some degree. Heavy minutes for role players like Sims and junior guard Eric Davis Jr. have led to a surge in production across the board. Three Texas players recorded career highs in scoring in the past week.

When Roach eventually returns from a fractured left hand, Texas will be a better fit for the smaller lineup. For now, consistency is the name of the game if the Longhorns hope to take down a deeper, more experienced opponent like Texas Tech.

“In general, our young guys, with the increased experience that they’ve had … all of them are getting better,” Smart said. “And that’s what you want from freshmen. They are making strides. It never happens as fast as you want it to, particularly when you are depending on those guys. But I do think they are much further along than they were maybe five or eight days ago.”