When Jordan Adams missed a free throw, leaving Texas down 65-63 to UCLA with 6.3 seconds left, the play was set for one of the Longhorn wings, either Julien Lewis or Sheldon McClellan, to take the final shot. Instead, on a broken play. the ball wound up in the hands of Jonathan Holmes, who missed a long three-point shot. The miss came at the end of a six-point, three-rebound performance that stood as one of Holmes's worst of the season, from a production standpoint.
Not that the six points were out of the ordinary. In the first nine games, the 6-foot-7 sophomore averaged just 5.7 points per game, and scored in double figures just twice — 10 points in a loss to Chaminade and 11 points against Sam Houston State. The final effort in that string came in Houston against the Bruins as the Longhorns faltered down the stretch, losing an eight-point lead with three minutes left.
But since that point, that missed final shot, Holmes has taken on a much bigger role in the offense. He's scored in double figures in four of the last seven games, and the only three games where he didn't top that mark, he played limited minutes with foul trouble.
It started with a 14-point, 10-rebound effort against Texas State, then continued when Holmes dropped 15 points and eight boards in the Longhorns' biggest win, an 85-67 victory that saw Holmes drill two three-pointers.
Holmes found himself in foul trouble in the next three games, scoring eight in 19 minutes against Michigan State and eight in 13 minutes against Rice before putting in just five points against Baylor in 17 minutes. Then he rebounded in the Longhorns' last two contests, scoring 12 and grabbing nine rebounds against West Virginia, including a three-pointer just before the buzzer that sent the game into overtime. He parlayed that into a 15-point, nine-rebound performance against Iowa State.
In all, Holmes — somebody that Texas coach Rick Barnes has constantly prodded to be more confident — has averaged 11 points and 7.7 boards over that span, including 13.5 points and nine rebounds over his last two games.
That's not to say that Holmes wasn't performing at the start of the year. With Jaylen Bond's absence due to injury, Holmes said he felt added pressure to hit the boards and to play with the requisite defensive toughness to make up for the loss.
"That's something I've tried to do," Holmes said. "I knew that was something we were going to have to work on if we were going to be one of the best rebounding teams in the country. I know for us to do that, I have to help out and do my best to try and rebound, especially when Jaylen was out. Now that he's back, I think our rebounding numbers are going to go up."
Holmes's rebounding numbers have stayed steady since Bond's return, while he's been able to ramp up his scoring output considerably.
"The game has definitely slowed down for him," Barnes said. "There's no question. I think he'll even get better offensively the more that he plays."
Holmes didn't truly emerge as a top-notch basketball prospect until a huge summer before his senior year. And because of that late blooming — though, to be fair, he averaged more than 20 points per game as a junior in high school — Barnes has at times said that Holmes isn't aware of just how high his ceiling is. This year, he's mentioned multiple times that Holmes is the one player he'll tolerate mistakes from, since Holmes makes those mistakes at 100 miles per hour.
"Coach has told me that he just wants me to be confident," Holmes said. "He doesn't want me to force anything or try to make something happen. But if it's there, he wants me to take it and be confident and make my decision."
When Holmes picked Texas over rival Texas A&M, one of the things that he said was that he visualized himself playing the role of Gary Johnson, an undersized stretch four with a nice jumper who excelled at defense.
"I want to do, and can do, a lot of the same things that he did," Holmes said after committing.
And while Holmes has worked to develop his jumper, spending time all summer working on his elbow placement for more consistency. And he's developed more consistency from behind the arc. After starting the season 2-for-14 on three-pointers, he's made 7-of-17, or 41.2 percent, since.
But Texas may still need more. As a senior, Johnson averaged 11.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game as the Longhorns' fourth or fifth option. Holmes doesn't have the luxury of waiting for the flow of the game to come to him.
"I'm just trying to be more aggressive on the offensive end," Holmes said. "It's something [the coaches] wanted me to do, so that's what I've been doing.
"Coach just told me to be confident and not think twice about taking open shots, knowing that I can make it," Holmes said.
If Texas is going to have a chance to beat Kansas on Saturday, Holmes will likely have to take, and hit, those open shots. The same ones he wasn't taking at the start of the year.
"All the games, we've had a chance to win," Holmes said. "Even the Iowa State game, we were coming back and made some mistakes there at the end. But it's not like we're getting blown out in every game. We're doing things that are making us lose and we know what we're doing. We just have to fix them.
"It's important to us," Holmes said. "It's more important to us to get a win, not just to beat Kansas. We've lost three in a row, so we need to get a win to get back on the right track."