KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Rick Barnes has believed all along that Texas is safely in the NCAA tournament. That didn't stop him from playing a psychological trick on his team during an impassioned halftime speech.
The Longhorns were struggling against No. 25 Iowa State, and Barnes told them to make their choice: the NIT or NCAA. They could make their decision over the final 20 minutes, effectively taking it out of the hands of the selection committee.
"Let's just say we are on the bubble," Barnes recalled saying. "Now if I write down NIT or NCAA, which one would you put your name under? Which one? Whichever one you want, you have to earn it."
They certainly did.
Texas rallied from a big second-half deficit before J'Covan Brown converted a go-ahead three-point play with 36.3 seconds left, lifting the Longhorns to a 71-65 victory in the Big 12 Conference men's basketball tournament quarterfinals on Thursday.
Texas will face fifth-ranked Missouri tonight for a spot in the championship.
Brown finished with 23 points for the Longhorns (20-12), who reached the 20-win plateau for the 13th consecutive season and just maybe ensured another streak would remain intact: The school has gone to 13 straight NCAA tournaments.
"Tournament time is always a great time," Brown said. "The crowd, I think we only had a couple fans, and they had a great amount of fans. We love that, to walk into a gym and quiet their fans. We just tried to give it our all for 40 minutes."
Royce White had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Cyclones (22-10), and it was his turnaround bank shot with 51.6 seconds left that tied it at 65. But after Brown was fouled on a spinning jumper and made the free throw, White lost control of the ball with 22.9 seconds left.
It wound up in the hands of the Longhorns' Jonathan Holmes, who made both free throws for a 70-65 lead. The Cyclones turned it over again on their next possession to seal the outcome.
"It means nothing. My performance was not good enough," said White, who was voted the league's top newcomer. "It just wasn't good enough."
Myck Kabongo added 11 points and Clint Champman had 10 for Texas, which trailed by 11 early in the second half before embarking on a 22-4 run to flip the script. Then it came down to which team could make the clutch plays, and Brown was able to deliver for Texas.
The Cyclones, who most believe are squarely in the dance, haven't won a Big 12 tournament game since 2005, dropping seven in a row.
"It's disappointing to go out in the first round down here, especially all the fans we had in attendance," Cyclones head coach Fred Hoiberg said. "They made big plays. I thought we put our heads down as a team, and then we regrouped and found a way to get back in the game."