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Horns Prevail in Stillwater

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Game Recap: The #12 Texas Longhorns survived the Bermuda triangle of the Big 12 to improve to 2-1 in conference play with a 63-61 victory over Oklahoma State. The Longhorns grabbed their first league road win despite scoring just 22 points in the second half, a low for any half this season.

Oklahoma State fed off their home crowd and started quickly in this one. The Cowboys crashed the boards effectively from the opening tip and capitalized on second chance opportunities to lead early. Texas also started very sloppy. The Horns turned the ball over uncharacteristically and missed at least three point blank shots in the lane. Texas also aided the OSU transition game with quick shots when the floor wasn’t balanced.

After the first ten or so minutes, the Horns settled down. Coach Barnes went to a zone defense which forced OSU into long jump shots and also allowed the Horns to better control the defensive glass. On offense, DJ showed the poise of the best point guard in the country by breaking down the defense off the dribble and calmly knocking down two first half three-pointers. Augustin was aided by an energetic first half by Damion James and by timely threes by Connor Atchley. Justin Mason was also crucial in building a 41-31 halftime lead, as he did a nice job defending James Anderson, save for the opening part of the ball game.

As impressive as the first half was, the second half may have been equally ugly. Texas turned the ball over multiple times to start the half, and AJ and Connor both missed wide open threes in the opening minutes. The turnovers and the misses all led to easy run out opportunities for the Cowboys and what was a 10 point lead was quickly gone.

The rest of the game was a low scoring and physical affair. Every Longhorn, except Augustin, went ice cold from the floor and began to stand and watch as the point guard took over the game with the dribble. Thankfully, as Texas slipped back into their 2-3 zone, OSU went cold as well.

Texas held on down the stretch thanks primarily to Augustin. DJ scored 13 points in the second half and accounted for more than half of the Horns’ total offense. Unlike in the Colorado game, Augustin was clutch at the line as well, making four-of-four in the final minute.

The outcome was: Huge. The home court advantage is bigger in college basketball than in any other sport, and to steal a road game against a decent opponent while not playing your best is really impressive. The Horns stay just a game behind the league leaders in the loss column and get the rest of the week off before hooking up with Texas Tech in Austin on Saturday night.

Even though OSU is not as good this year as they have been in years past, they still have talent and were playing in their home building. James Anderson will be on the Freshman All Conference team and Marcus Dove is as good a defender as there is in college basketball. Coming into the game, the Cowboys were undefeated at home. Winning in Stillwater should not be understated.

The Offensive MVP was: DJ Augustin. DJ grabs the honor for the second game in a row. Without Augustin, there is no way Texas wins this game. He simply controlled the game with his dribble in the second half and somehow slashed his way to the rim for three crucial lay-ups. Then, with Texas holding a slim lead in the final minutes, he stepped to the free throw line and sank four in a row. For the game, DJ had 26 points on 7-of-16 shooting, four rebounds, three assists, and three turnovers.

The Defensive MVP was: Justin Mason. Mason also grabs this honor for the second straight contest. Although he still looks totally lost on offense, Justin played a great game on defense. The Cowboys really have only one true offensive threat in James Anderson. Anderson did lead OSU in scoring with 17 points but scored seven in the opening few possessions and never really got hot like he is capable of doing. Mason grabbed six rebounds and made all three of his shot attempts and his two free throws to contribute eight points. He wasn’t credited with any steals or blocks. However, he did all the little things that don’t show up on a stat sheet that help teams win on the road.

The Freshman Evaluation tonight was: Another Failing Grade. Barnes went with his starters for almost the entire game and there is a reason why. Gary Johnson played five minutes, missed a point blank lay-up, fouled Byron Eaton twenty feet from the basket, and went one-for-two after his most aggressive offensive move of the season. Clint Chapman played just two minutes but still managed to lose sight of the ball and give up a lay-up in the first half. And, last, Alexis Wangmene played four minutes, grabbed two rebounds, and got beat on the baseline at least twice by quicker OSU wings.

I wrote after the Colorado game than neither Wingman nor Chap is ready for double digit minutes. Their inexperience showed again tonight. They will be critically important next year, so I have no problem with Rick continued to squeeze them in for a few minutes here and there, but they simply aren’t ready for primetime.

Johnson really looked scared in the opening minutes. He was hit with a beautiful pass as he stood two feet from the basket. Instead of dunking the ball, pounding his chest, and announcing himself to the rest of the conference, he tried to softly shoot the ball of the glass, missed, and sat for the rest of the half. With only five games under his belt, the comfort level is still not there.

Three Things: (1) Expect Mason to continue to start. His defense over the last two games has been exactly what this team needs. While I still have concerns about him on the offensive end, he brings too much to the table on defense and on the glass to sit right now. Also, this is an especially easy call because Gary Johnson is still struggling to find his feet.

(2) AJ is in a monstrous slump. Look at his numbers from behind the arc in the three conference games: 3-for-11, 4-for-14, and 0-for-7. That is a total of 7-for-32 = 22%. At the beginning of this season, AJ showed the ability to score in a variety of ways. He was doing a better job of attacking the basket and hitting his runners and lay-ups. He needs to do more of that. Coming into this game, he was hitting on 57% of his shots from inside the arc. When AJ’s three-pointer isn’t falling, the Texas offense looks really bad. We desperately need Abrams to break out of this conference long shooting slump.

(3) Give credit to Rick Barnes. Barnes has gotten Connor Atchley and Justin Mason back involved on both ends. Atchley had nine points and six boards tonight and was huge in the Colorado game, and Mason has been big defensively in each of the last two games. Barnes also smartly went to a 2-3 zone in both halves to slow down the Cowboys’ offense. When OSU got out in transition, the game was close. When the Texas zone forced OSU to execute their half-court offense, Texas pulled away. Last, Barnes made some comments after the Colorado game that he didn’t care that DJ had missed some free throw recently. Barnes said that the ball was going to stay in DJ’s hands and challenged him to knock them down. Well, tonight Augustin’s stroke returned as he went 9-of-10 from the line.

Overall, great road win. In this stretch of winnable games, two down and one to go. With a win on Saturday night at the Drum, Texas can improve to 3-1 in conference and will be close to fully recovered from the disappointing beat down in Columbia. This is still a team with warts, but also one that has a chance to be very good. Tonight they showed flashes of a team that can beat anyone in the country and has, but also had some really poor stretches on defense and on the glass. Hopefully, the Horns can begin to put together even longer period of solid play as conference season rolls on. The Big XII is primed for five or six bids this season, so nothing is going to come easily.

Box Score

NEXT GAME: Home vs. Texas Tech – Saturday 1/26 7:00 p.m.