A.J. Abrams has found a midrange shot, a slimmed down Justin Mason is relentlessly attacking the glass, Damion James is a warrior, D. J. Augustin is the most complete point guard ever to wear the Burnt Orange (he has a much sweeter jump shot than T.J. Ford), freshmen Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman are further along than expected while the most improved player may be Connor Atchley. And just wait 'til freshman F Gary Johnson is cleared.
Last year's bunch had a tendency to look over its shoulder and wait for Durant to create. Head coach Rick Barnes' current herd of Horns gets everybody involved and the post players are making a conscious effort to run the floor. So far, this is an explosive club that has averaged 99 points during the past three games, including quality competition Tennessee and New Mexico State. As such, Texas upped its record to 6-0 while TSU fell to 1-5 after opening the season with six straight road games. Four Longhorns scored in double figures with Augustin setting the pace with 20 (7-of-11 FG, including 4-of-6 treys). James enjoyed one of his most solid outings as a Longhorns with 19 points (8-of-13), 10 rebounds, four assists, one block and one steal.
"The thing coach has talked to me about the most is consistency," James said. "I came out focusing on my defense and rebounds and let the offense take care of itself."
Texas overcame a slow start by shooting 61.5 percent (24-of-39) in the second period, finishing at 51.3 percent (39-of-76). The Horns won the battle of the boards, 41-27, and limited the visitors to just nine offensive rebounds. Texas forced 24 turnovers while committing only seven. The Tigers were 42.9 percent from the field (21-of-49), but were 12-of-27 (44.4 percent) from three-point range.
Texas struggled early against TSU's 2-3 zone, misfiring on 10 of its first 16 attempts. The visitors hung around by hitting half of their first eight attempts beyond the arc, trailing 19-18 with 9:11 remaining in the opening period.
"We came out thinking the game would be slower," Mason said, "When they put it on us, it caught us by surprise."
Abrams' 17-foot jumper launched an 11-2 run, capped by consecutive Mason offensive boards and put-backs for a 32-20 Texas lead. But Southern hit five of their last six shots, including a seventh trey, to keep within striking distance at halftime, 39-32.
"The thing I talked about most at halftime was our rushed shots," Barnes said. "We missed a lot of shots. I told them our size would eventually wear them down. If we had shot the ball like we're capable of, it would have been different at halftime."
TSU opened the second period right where it left off as F Kevin Abanobi drained his fourth three-ball in seven attempts. Augustin answered with a trey just Texas began attacking the middle of the floor. Mason sank a pair of foul shots after he was intentionally fouled on steal. Abrams' jumper was part of a 9-0 Texas run that helped push the lead back to double-digits, 48-35. James' turnaround jumper made it a 57-43 ballgame as part of a 9-2 run. Augustin's steal and layup pushed the margin to 70-45, completing a 10-2 run. James' bucket extended the lead to 87-55 as Barnes began to empty the bench. All told, Texas outscored TSU 59-29 in the second period.
Arguably, the toughest challenge awaits the Horns in historic Pauley Pavillion. Tipoff against UCLA is set for 7 p.m. (CST) Sunday and will be televised on Fox Sports Net.
""I think they're the best team in college basketball," Barnes said. "We're going to find out a lot about our basketball team Sunday night."