Despite another strong effort by sophomore, Jordan Hamilton, the No. 22 Texas Longhorns (3-1) dropped their first game of the young season, 68-66, to the No. 4/5 Pittsburgh Panthers in the championship game of the 2k Sports Classic.
As was last night's game against Illinois, this was a high quality college basketball game between two talented clubs. This game went back and forth for the full 40 minutes. The Longhorns had the last shot but Cory Joseph attacked too quickly after a free throw miss by Pitt and ended up settling for an off-balance prayer from the baseline.
Texas had the edge when the pace was quicker and the ‘Horns were able to score in transition. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh had the advantage when the game was played five-on-five in the half court. Both teams got outstanding performances from their top players-a career-high 28 pts and eight rebounds for Hamilton and 24 pts and four rebounds for Ashton Gibbs, including some momentum building jumpers late in the second half.
Both teams shot the wall effectively from the floor overall and battled hard on the glass. The fact that Texas actually ended up with a few more boards than did Pitt is a testament to how hard the smaller Longhorns competed. Both teams had trouble staying on their feet as the cut or curled across the unnecessary floor decals. Texas lost the turnover battle 17-11.
While any time Texas loses an athletic contest, it hurts; this is far from a painful one. In fact, after the two games in NYC, I am even more excited and hopeful than I was after seeing Texas defeat Navy and Louisiana Tech last week.
- This year's team appear to be just that-a team. Through four games, they are competing together, looking for each other on offense and in transition, and picking each other up after mistakes.
- Tristan Thompson has been phenomenal and already competed against big-time college competition. His post moves are much better than expected and his timing on defense has been incredible. Thompson alone is helping erase some early season defensive mistakes with block after block from the weak side.
- Hamilton looks like a different player. He was outstanding from deep tonight (5-of-8) and even looked to drive and dish a couple of times late. Jordan still forced a few shots but his play has been exponentially better than last year's.
- J'Covan Brown was solid late as well. His free throw shooting is worth noting because he will likely be a positive outlier on another average foul shooting team. When Brown stops competing with himself and the refs (1st half) and just plays basketball (2nd half), he will become the crucial third scorer for Rick Barnes.
- Dogus Balbay played shut-down defense last night against Demetri McCamey and competed just as hard tonight against Pitt. Jamie Dixon's sets got Gibbs open for a couple of big buckets but overall Balbay did his thing.
- Gary Johnson struggled a little in NYC but against slightly smaller frontlines and more emphasis on his mid-range game, he'll be fine.
If there was a disappointment with the trip to Madison Square Garden, it was the reinforcement of how thin this year's team is. Texas will need more from Matt Hill and Alexis Wangmene and probably from Jai Lucas too to reach the next level. Pittsburgh is an excellent, well coached and balanced club and defeating the Panthers on any night was going to be tough. But beating Pitt after playing an overtime game less than 24 hours before and rolling with just nine scholarship players, that was highly, highly unlikely.
Again, I repeat that I love this team already. Thompson is my new favorite Longhorn and Hamilton is right on his heels. If Texas can get a consistent third scorer (either Brown or Joseph), and can continue to progress with their new offense, then the Longhorns will be just fine this year and much better than I expected.
NEXT GAME: vs. Sam Houston State Tuesday, November 23rd 7 PM