It was a Senior Night showdown between nationally-ranked, bitter rivals with the conference title on the line that still managed to exceed the pre-game hype. There were 16 ties, eight lead-changes and A&M had a chance to send this one into a triple-overtime with a last-second put-back. The game-that-refused-to-end stretched almost into March in some points of the country. This one wasn't even in the record books when Kevin Durant sank two foul shots with five seconds remaining in the second OT to give Texas a 98-95 edge. Texas opted to put senior Texas A&M G Acie Law on the foul line who sank his first free throw and purposely missed the second. RS-freshman Chinemelu Elonu came up with the offensive board but couldn't convert on the put-back, leaving a sold-out Erwin Center (16,755) on the brink of exhaustion.
"Both teams played their hearts out," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "I don't know all the history of the Southwest Conference, but I'm not sure there's ever been a bigger basketball game between both these teams. Every guy who played made a play at some point in time during the game."
A brief history lesson, then, is in order. The last time A&M brought a nationally ranked team to Austin was 1979. The Aggies have not swept Texas in basketball since 1987. With the win over No. 6/7 A&M, No. 15/16 Texas staked it's claim to a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and has now won six consecutive games against AP Top 10 foes at home. Of more immediate concern, Texas can claim a share of the Big 12 Conference title if it can win (for the first time) at No. 3 Kansas Saturday. Texas upped its mark to 22-7 while A&M dropped to 24-5. Both teams stand at 12-3 in league play, but the Aggies no longer control their own destiny and must root for the Horns to get past the Jayhawks to at least salvage a three-way tie for the conference crown.
It was Texas' fourth OT game this season, and Texas' first OT win since knocking off then-No. 9 LSU on December 10. It also puts Texas' triple-OT loss at Oklahoma State in its rear-view mirror and gave evidence that four freshmen starters can hang with anyone.
"We've been through this before," Durant noted. "We knew what we had to do and we pulled it out."
It was Senior Night for back-up G Craig Winder and, more than likely, the final home game for Durant. The freshman phenom notched 30 points -- it was the eighth time this season he has reached the 30-point mark -- on 8-of-17 FG while adding a game-high 16 rebounds and three blocked shots. He spent all of one minute on the bench through 50 total minutes of full-throttled hoops.
"I can't imagine there's another guy in the country better than him," Barnes said. "The way I look at it is he started the season with three freshman and a sophomore. He had no experience around him."
Law continued his last-second heroics by draining a trey with one second remaining at the end of regulation to force the overtime and finished with a game-high 33 points (10-of-23). Four Longhorns scored in double figures, including D. J. Augustin's who arguably contributed his best overall performance of his young career. The freshman point guard finished with 25 points (8-of-16 FG), seven assists, five rebounds and two steals.
"We told ourselves that we weren't going to lose," Augustin, "and we played hard until the end."
Yet, Barnes had previously suggested that, as opponents collapse on Durant, that Texas' fortunes rest on the improved play of F Damion James. The freshman finished with a career-best 22 points (7-of-10 FG), punctuated by clutch free throws and timely drives to the hole. Four of his career-best eight FTs launched the first OT. He added nine rebounds and two blocked shots in 43 minutes of work. No block was more important than James' stuff of Law's attempt with 19 seconds left in double-OT and Texas clinging to a 95-93 lead.
Sophomore A. J. Abrams contributed 16 points (5-of-13), including 4-of-9 from thee-point range.
"When we have balance," Barnes noted, "is when we're at our best."
The Horns have now won sixth straight, dating back to February 5 loss at College Station. In fact, the 18-point setback was a watershed moment for Texas after their rivals hung-100 on them at Reed Arena. During the next five games, Texas held opponents to an average of 36.1 percent from the field.
"It took them a while to understand defense," Barnes said, "but we've definitely got better there."
A&M shot 44.7 percent (34-of-76) Wednesday, including 13-of-25 three-pointers. Texas hit 46 percent (29-of-63) from the floor and 44 percent (11-of-25) from outside the arc. The Aggies controlled the boards, 46-to-39, yet Texas made more foul shots than A&M even attempted. The Horns connected on 29-of-41 FTs (70.7 percent) while A&M went 15-of-23 (65.2 percent) from the charity stripe.
Antanas Kavaliauskas was whistled for his second personal foul just 3:50 into the contest and the score knotted at 11. A four-point play gave the Aggies a 19-13 lead after Winder fouled Josh Carter just as he drained a trey from the right wing. The Horns evened the score at 19 with three-balls from Durant and Connor Atchley. We were deadlocked at 24 following an Abrams steal, resulting in a pair of foul shots.
Barnes inserted wide-bodied Dexter Pittmann with little more than seven minutes until the break, drawing two quick fouls on Joseph Jones. Durant teamed with Abrams for a pair of treys to make it 31-28 as A&M went the final 3:38 of the first period without a bucket. Augustin's driving lay-up, followed by a pair of Damion James foul shots, made it a 37-33 Longhorn advantage with 2:42 left. In fact, James was almost single-handedly responsible for Texas' 43-36 halftime lead, following his lay-up with an offensive board and put-back.
The Horns shot a torrid 57.7 percent (15-of-26) from the floor during the first 20 minutes of play, including 6-of-10 from three-point range, while holding A&M to 37.5 percent (12-of-32). But Texas misfired on 12 of its first 17 shots to open the second period as the Aggies launched a 23-5 run to get back in this one at 51-50. Carter scored eight straight as his trey gave A&M the upper hand, 57-55. Barnes called for time with 11:21 left.
The Aggies built their largest lead at 62-55 before James answered with a jumper from six feet out. Augustin connected from outside the arc before Durant squared up and rattled one home to tie things at 62-apiece with 6:42 on the game clock. Durant's lay-up gave Texas a tenuous 68-66 lead with 4:09 remaining in the bitterly-contested slugfest. Acie Law's trey tied the game at 69 before his traditional three-point play regained the lead for A&M at 72-69.
Durant sank a pair of foul shots to pull the Horns within one with 1:48 left. Augustin followed with a pair of foul shots 25 seconds later. With 50 ticks left, Kavaliauskas put up shot but James followed with a highlight reel block. In fact, the ball was wedged between the rim and backboard.
Possession arrow: Texas
Durant drained an NBA-three to make it 76-72, but Dominique Kirk quickly answered with a three-bomb of his own. Augustin calmly sank a pair of foul shots to spot Texas a three-point lead. The final nine seconds took an eternity. Both teams had time time-outs remaining: Texas used one, A&M used two. But, when play resumed, Law drained a high-arching trey against a double-team with one second remaining. Nothing but net. And we were in overtime.
"I put as much arch on it as I possibly could," Law said. "I was just lucky to get it to fall."
Following the end of regulation, Barnes huddled his troops and said: "This is a player's game now. You have to keep fighting, you have to keep making plays and keep staying together."
Barnes would also tell his team that a basketball player doesn't mind playing all night -- and that's about the way this one went.
Jones fouled out 23 seconds into the OT before James' knocked down four straight FTs. Durant's put-back spotted Texas an 87-80 advantage. But a Kavaliauskas trey followed by an Aggie steal and lay-up cut the margin to two. Still looking for his first point of the contest, Justin Mason hit one of two foul shots to make it 88-85 with 35 seconds left. That gave Law enough time to knock down his second game-extending trey and, yes, we were in double-overtime.
Texas took a 93-90 lead as Abrams followed his trey with a jumper, but Kavaliauskas' buzzer-beating trey tied this one again. Durant's FTs made it 95-93 with 1:15 left. James was guilty of a turnover after Kavaliauskas misfired on a trey that would have given A&M a one-point lead with 48 seconds left. But James atoned for his miscue by stuffing Law's lay-up attempt 29 seconds later. Durant's FTs completed the scoring for Texas.
Texas' contest at Kansas is slated for 11 a.m. (CST) Saturday in a CBS-Sports telecast.