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#10 Horns Grab Huge Home Win

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Game Recap: The #10 Longhorn (17-4, 4-2) overcame the early hot shooting of Baylor and a 14 point first half deficit to defeat the Bears, 80-72. After the disappointing performance in College Station on Wednesday, the Horns returned to Austin for a ‘must win’ game and responded. Coach Barnes and 14,151 other Texas fans were witness to a strong performance by Damion James from off the bench, great energy from Gary Johnson on both ends, and a refreshing shooting performance from AJ Abrams.

This one started like many of Texas’ games this season: with the Horns falling behind early as their opponent began by shooting lights out. Baylor started 4-of-5 from behind the arc and led 31-17 with eight minutes left in the first half. The Bears repeatedly got good looks from long range in transition and after Texas defenders lunged themselves out of position trying for steals. The Horns weren’t taking care of the basketball, couldn’t locate the basket on offense, and couldn’t find the shooters on defense. Mid-way through the first half, a 3-3 conference mark and a devastating home loss looked likely.

Thankfully, the Horns closed the half on a 17-7 run behind a much needed energy boost from Johnson and hot perimeter shooting from James. Texas also began to get back quicker in transition and find the Bears’ best perimeter shooters. After the scorching start, Baylor made just 2-of-7 from behind the arc to close the half. Although, Baylor led by four at the break, the Horns had survived the opening punch, something they weren’t able to do in Aggieland, and seemed to have seized the momentum.

The second half was all Texas, 46-34. With Aaron Bruce continuing to sit on the bench with foul trouble and Justin Mason successfully locking down Curtis Jerrells, Baylor’s offense was limited. Texas held Baylor to just 34% from the floor in the second half. The defense tightened and the ball handling and shooting improved. After committing nine turnovers in the first half, Texas coughed up the ball just twice in the second half. Last, Abrams and Connor Atchley knocked down huge three-pointers and Texas was functional at the free throw line down the stretch.  

The outcome was: Huge. I really like to look at stretches of conference games. Coaches may not like to but I do. The importance of this game cannot be understated. After the loss on Wednesday, Texas simply could not afford to drop this one at home. Both of their games next week are on the road and, while both are definitely winnable, playing away from home in conference is never easy. If Texas had dropped this one and headed into next week’s road games with a two game losing streak, I would be extremely worried. Not to mention that the next time Texas plays in Austin it will be against #2 Kansas on February 11th.  

Finally, the outcome was hugely important to the confidence levels of both James and Abrams. After Damion’s less than acceptable performance against the Aggies, Coach Barnes started Dexter Pittman in his place. James got the message. Damion played like the double-double All Conference performer that we all love. Hopefully, point made and confidence and effort restored. Abrams was also solid. AJ shot 50% from the floor, 50% from three, and 100% from the line. He may have forced a few shots early in the game, but overall showed solid decision making. The effort and the results were both there this afternoon. While still too much of the offense is geared around creating jump shots for AJ in the half court, it is very nice when he’s actually making them.

The Offensive MVP was: Gary Johnson. Maybe an odd choice as AJ scored 20 points and James had 17 points and eight boards, but I’m not sure Texas rebounds in the first half without Johnson’s effort. He was calling for the ball on offense and looked much more comfortable after the catch. On multiple occasions, he found his balance and knocked down soft baseline jumpers. In just 19 minutes, Gary scored 12 points, grabbed seven boards, and blocked two shots. That is a monster performance in less than a half of action. The performance we saw today was the type of performance I’d hoped we see from game one back in early January.

The Defensive MVP was: Justin Mason. There really wasn’t a single outstanding performance by any of the Horns, but I’ll give the nod to Mason because he was matched up with Jerrells during most of his time on the floor. Jerrells scored 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting, but just two of his points came in the second half when Texas took control of the game. Mason did a solid job of keeping Jerrells in front of him in the half court and an equally acceptable job of challenge his perimeter jump shots. Mason was credited with a block and a steal in his 27 minutes of action.

The Freshman Evaluation tonight was: Inconsequential. We already mentioned the great performance by Johnson, so this section is more about Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman. Chap played just seven minutes and Wingmane didn’t play at all. Texas matched Baylor’s small lineup for most of the game. Connor wasn’t in foul trouble and Johnson was playing well, so Chap and Wingman watched this one from the bench. The pace of the game with plenty of free throws and timeouts also allowed Barnes to substitute less.

Three Things: (1) Texas won without DJ’s scoring. Augustin scored just nine points and went just 1-for-7 from the floor, but it didn’t matter. DJ did a nice job of playing in control, finding his teammates, and knocking down his free throws down the stretch. With his jumper a little off and Baylor sagging into the lane to take away his driving ability, DJ found other ways to be effective. Augustin had seven assists to just one turnover, grabbed two boards, and made 6-of-8 from the free throw line. While the Texas offense is certainly more deadly when his jumper is on, it was great to see the Horns score 80 points and beat a solid a team without him having to score 20+ points.

(2) FT shooting still scares me. Texas shot 16-of-29 for 65% this afternoon. That is not horrible, like at A&M, but is far from impressive also. AJ and DJ were very good from the line, and I have full confidence they will make them with the game on the line. I don’t have the same confidence when Johnson or James are at the stripe. Damion was just 3-for-7 and missed two with under a minute to play. It didn’t come back to burn us today but without improvement, those bricks will cost us a game at some point this season.

(3) The crowd sucked. I don’t know if the fans were hungover from Friday night or still shell shocked from Wednesday, but they were very late arriving and not loud at all. And sadly of the 14,000 fans at least 2,000 were dressed in green and gold. The Baylor students in the upper deck repeatedly made more noise than the rest of the arena combined. How freaking sad is it that we have one of the ten or fifteen best college basketball teams in the country and Baylor can bus down thousands of students and fans knowing that they can one, buy tickets easily and two, influence a road game with their cheering? Don’t get me wrong: there are some loyal Texas fans, students and season ticket holders, who show up early, dance, scream, and cheer, but overall the fans suck.

Box Score

NEXT GAME: Away vs. Oklahoma – Wednesday 2/6 6:00 p.m. ESPN2