NEW YORK CITY — As Texas gets ready for its toughest test of the early basketball season, head coach Rodney Terry likes the toughness his revamped roster showed in Sunday’s taut 81-80 win over Louisville in a Empire Classic semifinal at Madison Square Garden.
Specifically, he liked the clutch play of Max Abmas and Kadin Shedrick, two graduate transfers who arrived in Austin in the offseason. Shedrick had a career night with 27 points while Abmas nailed a contested fall-away jumper just outside the paint with .4 seconds left to win the game.
“I mean, they’re, incredible guys to coach on the floor,” Terry said. “But they’re incredible young men away from the court, too. I love working with those guys every day, I really do.”
It will take more work from No. 19 Texas (4-0) to knock off No. 5 UConn (4-0), the defending national champion who cruised past Indiana 77-57 in Sunday’s first semifinal. The Longhorns and UConn will tip at 6 p.m. Monday.
Abmas, the active leading scorer in college basketball, spent the past four seasons starring at Oral Roberts. Moments like the game-winner against Louisville, said Terry, are why he pursued the Dallas-area native in the portal.
“Max has played at the highest level and he’s maybe the best player to ever play at Oral Roberts, and now he’s coming over on the main stage,” Terry said “He’s a Texas guy, and he get a chance to play at the flagship program in the state and have these type of moments in Madison Square Garden. Those are memories you’ll have the rest of his life.”
Louisville guard Skyy Clark locked up Abmas on the play and forced the 6-foot guard to fade away on his final jumper, but he could only drop his head while Abmas’ shot barely rippled the net.
“It was a great shot,” Clark said. “I thought I played some really good defense but, I mean, that’s Max. He’s a tough-shot maker.”
Louisville coach Kenny Payne, a former assistant for the New York Knicks who has seen his share of memorable moments in Madison Square Garden, couldn’t disagree with his player.
“It was a hell of a shot,” he said.
Abmas said such moments are why he transferred to Texas for his final collegiate season.
“It’s everything you dream of as a kid to be able to play in a big-time game like this at Madison Square Garden and to hit a game-winner,” he said. “It’s something special and something that I won’t forget.”