KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Rodney Terry stopped on the way to the Texas locker room after his team knocked out Xavier for a spot in the Elite Eight, the interim coach fulfilling a fan’s wish for a photograph by flashing that all-too-familiar “Hook ’em Horns” sign.
“Go get that job, coach!” the grateful fan hollered after him.
A couple more wins and the folks at Texas might not have a choice.
The longtime assistant made his boldest statement yet for the full-time gig, guiding the Longhorns without ailing big man Dylan Disu to an 83-71 win over the Musketeers on Friday night. Tyrese Hunter scored 19 points, and Marcus Carr and Christian Bishop added 18 apiece, to move second-seeded Texas within a game of the Final Four for the first time in 15 years.
“I thought we played one of our better defensive games tonight that we played all year,” said Terry, who stepped into the top job in December, when Chris Beard was suspended and ultimately fired following allegations of domestic violence.
“Proud of my guys and the way they put their will on this game from the start to finish.”
Disu, who had been dominant through the first two games of the tournament, hurt his foot in a second-round win over Penn State. He got treatment on it all week, and the Longhorns successfully kept it secret until tipoff, when the big man played just a couple of minutes and then limped off the floor and straight to the locker room.
When he returned to the bench, he was wearing a big walking boot, a black hoodie and a grim expression.
“It’ll be day-to-day right now at the moment,” Terry said. “We got the best in the business working with us.”
Still, the Longhorns already had a tough task ahead in No. 5 seed Miami on Sunday night, especially given the way the Hurricanes roared to an 89-75 win over Houston. The possibility of playing without Disu, who led the Longhorns to a Big 12 Tournament title and earned MVP honors on the same floor just two weeks ago, only makes it harder.
“We knew before the game that we wouldn’t have Dylan for the whole game,” Carr said. “We just wanted to really play for him. We knew how much this would mean to him. We got emotional in there knowing he wouldn’t be out there.”
Relegated to a 6-foot-9 cheerleader Friday night, Disu at least had plenty to celebrate.
Sir’Jabari Rice scored 16 points and Timmy Allen added 11 for the Longhorns (29-8). The best-seeded team left in the tournament kept Souley Boum and Xavier’s perimeter threats in check while making life miserable for Jack Nunge down low.
Adam Kunkel hit five 3-pointers and led the third-seeded Musketeers (27-10) with 21 points. Nunge scored 15 but needed 19 shots to get there, while Colby Jones also had 15 points. Boum didn’t hit a field goal until early in the second half and finished with 12.
“They were better than us,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “We had a very difficult time running our offense and that’s a testament to their defense, because we’ve been able to score virtually every game we’ve played this year.”
It was Texas that scored at will, though, and Carr that got them going. He spun through the lane like a Tilt-A-Whirl for tough buckets at the rim, and even knocked down a spinning, desperation 3 as the shot clock expired. And when Miller traded out a man-to-man defense for a zone, the Longhorns began to pound the ball to Bishop in the paint.
With dozens of family and friends on hand, the Creighton transfer from the Kansas City suburb of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, went to work. Bishop threw down one dunk on Carr’s alley-oop lob, then slammed down another a few minutes later.
By the time Allen banked in a half-court heave, the Longhorns had established a 42-25 halftime advantage — and had to be redirected from the Xavier tunnel, where they were busy celebrating, toward their own locker room.
“Their pressure is something you can’t really simulate until you’re in the game against them. Their toughness, their experience,” Miller said. “And then offensively they have great guard play, and you feel that as well.”
Xavier tried to creep back a couple of times, but the Longhorns never let their lead sniff single digits. And that gave Terry, who returned to Texas after head jobs at Fresno State and UTEP, a chance to breathe deeply and enjoy the moment.
The 54-year-old from the small Texas town of Angleton was on Rick Barnes’ staff the last time the Longhorns reached the Elite Eight, back in 2008. He was on the 2003 staff that guided them all the way to the Final Four, too.
Now, he’s one step away from taking Texas on a most improbable trip to college basketball’s biggest stage.
“Continue to want more. I mean, each round — don’t be satisfied,” Terry said. “We’re going to enjoy this victory for one night, like we have all year long, and we’ll be on to the next challenge and very quickly against a really good Miami team.”