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Texas Struggles Past TCU without AJ

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Game Recap: Without the services of AJ Abrams (ankle), the #14 Longhorns (12-2) struggled to pull away from the TCU Horned Frogs. Texas finally prevailed, 67-59, behind a phenomenal performance from Damion James on both ends of the floor.

Abrams apparently injured an ankle in practice yesterday and was in street clothes alongside Dogus Balbay for this one. His absence coupled with DJ Augustin’s foul trouble and hot three-point shooting by TCU in the first half only allowed the Longhorns to lead 34-32 at the break. The Horns would have really been in trouble if not for Damion James. James scored 18 points in the first half and a career-high 29 points for the game.

Augustin was able to stay on the floor more in the second half and scored 18 of his 20 points after the break. Rick Barnes also got a strong and unexpected 14 minutes from walk-on Ian Mooney off the bench. The Horns finally outlasted the Horned Frogs despite turnovers and shaky foul shooting down the stretch. I am sad to report that a mediocre team would have beaten the Horns tonight.

The outcome was: F*%^ing Ugly. The win did snap a two game losing steak but this one was not pretty. With AJ on the bench, TCU was able to sit in a 2-3 for a large portion of the game. The zone sagged to take away driving lanes for Augustin without fear of the Horns scoring from the perimeter. Texas shot just 6-for-17 (35%), including an expectedly awful 0-for-3 from JD Lewis, from behind the arc. Again, thankfully, the long-range and mid-range games of James were on. James was 9-of-15 from the floor, including 3-of-5 from three. If James’ jumper wasn’t falling, Texas loses.

It wasn’t just the long range shooting that was off, though. Texas uncharacteristically committed 14 turnovers, which led to 14 TCU points. The Horns also had trouble closing out on TCU shooters, especially in transition. The Horned Frogs knocked down 12 three-pointers and shot 41% from long range to keep the game close. Last, for the second game in a row, Texas failed to capitalize at the free throw line. The Horns shot 63% (19/30) from the line. As bad as Texas played, they would have easily won by double digits had they knocked down their free throws.

The Offensive and Defensive MVP was: Damion James James was simply outstanding tonight. He knocked down three balls, pull-up jumpers, and even scored in the lane a little. Most impressive, James’ shots came within the flow of the offense. His looks were not forced and he looked perfectly comfortable on the perimeter. No one will benefit more from the addition of Gary Johnson more than James, as he’ll be able to play almost entirely at the small forward spot.

Damion was again a beast on the boards as well. He grabbed 14 total rebounds and has now grabbed 10 or more boards in eight of the last nine games (in the other game, 9 rebounds). WOW! As Jay Bilas put it in the Wisconsin game, "He’s a man!"

When he wasn’t knocking down jumpers or snatching boards, Damion was playing solid defense. He blocked five shots and snagged two steals, one of which proved to be the play of the game. With the Horns up just three points in the final minutes, Damion picked off a cross court pass in transition as he crashed into the scoring table. The theft would have been impressive enough but James somehow managed keep the ball alive by passing it behind his back to Justin Mason. Seconds later, Mason found Augustin for a three-pointer and a six point lead. There is no doubt that play finally closed the door on TCU’s upset bid.

The Offensive and Defensive Runner Up was: Ian Mooney. Casual UT basketball fans probably don’t even know who he is, but tonight he came up big. In his 14 minutes of action, Mooney scored one basket, blocked one shot, played solid post defense, and came up with a huge offensive rebound off a missed free throw late in the game to give the Horns another possession. Nice job young man.

The Freshman Evaluation tonight was: Incomplete. Both Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene are in Barnes’s doghouse right now. Chap committed two unforced turnovers in three minutes of play in the first half and never saw the floor again. Wingman committed two fouls in his five minutes of action in the first half and never saw the floor again.

At the beginning of the year, the ceiling for both players seemed very high. Chap showed a high basketball IQ and was doing a nice job rebounding, while Wingman was a physical presence on defense and a potential shot blocker. Now, both seem lost and scared. Rick definitely doesn’t like what he sees right now. I have no idea how well they are performing in practice but Rick’s patience with both players seems to be getting shorter and shorter in each game. We are past the cupcakes in our schedule, but at some point, you have to let them play through their mistakes. Otherwise, the Horns are going to be six deep from now until the end of the season.

Dexter Pittman Watch: 5 minutes, 0 points (0/0), 1 rebound, 0 fouls.  
This wasn’t a game for Dex but after the Wisconsin game, I’m not sure what type of game is suited for Dex right now. TCU was too small and too quick and had big men with the ability to knock down three-pointers. Dex is incapable of guarding anyone on the perimeter. After a few minutes of play in the first half, Dex cheered on his teammates the rest of the way.

This part of the review may need to be retired until next season. Dex is too slow, too quick to bite on pump fakes, and, shockingly, has trouble holding off his defender for low block position. I love him, but it doesn’t look it’s going to happen this season.

Three Things: (1) AJ is more valuable than Mason. There was a some discussion about whether AJ or Mason should sit in place of Gary Johnson. After tonight’s game, that discussion should cease. While Mason brings a lot on the defensive end, Texas cannot survive without AJ’s offense. The Horns can replace the Mason’s missing defense with Johnson much easier than they can replace the missing 20 points per game when AJ is out of the lineup. Not to mention how much easier it is for defenses to defend DJ when they can essentially use Mason’s man to double team the ball and have the other three defenders clog the lane in case DJ beats the first two men.

(2) Gary Johnson played ok. That may not be the report you wanted to hear about the freshman savior. But let me also say this, the potential is there. Tonight, he looked nervous, had a couple of turnovers, and gave up at least three three-pointers after losing his man in transition. Now, the good news. For the first time all season, DJ, Mason, and Damion looked to feed the post with Johnson in the game. The inside scoring presence, the post defense, the overall intensity, the rebounding help, etc: it will all come in time, but tonight, the rust showed.

(3) Its time to start worrying about James turning pro. Damion has been nothing short of fantastic over the last nine games. James is averaging 16.4 points and over 12 rebounds since the Texas Southern game on November 28th. Those are First Team All Big XII numbers for sure and, if Texas stays near the top of the polls, All American numbers as well. I have thought since before the season that this would be DJ’s last but, also, that Damion would stay at least one more. If this kind of play keeps up,...

Box Score

NEXT GAME: Home vs. St. Mary’s – Saturday 1/5 5:00 p.m.