The Longhorns are headed back to Texas.
It came down to the final play, but when Damion James lunged in front of Miami's final in-bounds pass and hurled to ball down the court, Texas had finally secured the 75-72 win and a berth in the Sweet 16 in Houston.
“It's exciting. We're going to have a lot of fans there,” said Texas sophomore point guard D.J. Augustin. “Hopefully we can keep playing defense like we've been playing because that's been winning games for us.”
Texas' win, appropriately ending on a defensive play, ensures the Horns will head to Houston and the friendlier confines of Reliant Stadium. A vast majority of the fans at Alltel Arena in Little Rock were against the Horns -- many of whom were dressed in Arkansas red -- but sitting in the locker room before the game, Texas head coach Rick Barnes had complete confidence in his team's ability to fight through.
“Todd Wright, my strength coach, came in and said, 'Coach, the boys are ready,'” said Barnes. “I can't tell you why, but we've been a good road team.”
True as that may be, the numbers show the Longhorns have been an even better home team. Texas is 17-1 at home on the season and a perfect 8-0 in Big 12 play at the Erwin Center. Texas center Dexter Pittman, who's from the Houston-area town of Rosenberg, told Inside Texas he can't wait to play a Sweet 16 game in stadium full of fans in Burnt Orange.
“I'm ready to go there now,” said Pittman. “It's going to feel like Christmas.”
Texas moves to 30-6 on the year with the win. Miami ends its season with a record of 23-11.
Initially, Texas' second round contest with Miami was a tight battle and a physical tone was set very early as both sides worked the ball underneath. But the difference was made by the Longhorns in outside shooting, which was on early and did not let up the entire game.
Texas actually made more three-point buckets (13) than two-point buckets (12) or free throws (12) in the game. Just like in the first round, A.J. Abrams had the hot hand for Texas, sinking 6-of-10 shots from three-point range and scoring the same number of points, 26, he put up in Texas' win over Austin Peay. After being so successful in the first round from behind the arch, Abrams was pleasantly surprised to find himself still getting so many open looks.
“I was kind of surprised about that,” said Abrams. “With the penetration that D.J., Justin (Mason) and Damion did, it kind of frees me up. That's my job just to knock in some jumpers.”
James was also deadly from outside, hitting 3-of-5 three-point attempts, scoring 16 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. The sophomore forward's total moved him to second on UT's single-season rebounds list with 384, passing LaSalle Thompson (370, 1980-81) and trailing only Kevin Durant (390, 2006-07), a mark he will likely break in Houston.
Texas and Miami's early 8-8 tie was broken by threes from Augustin, James and Abrams, plus a quick two from Connor Atchley, to give the Horns a 19-8 advantage. For most of the game afterward it looked like it was going to be all Texas. With four minutes to go in the game, the Longhorns were still up by 14, 66-52, and had kept the Canes at arm's length the entire time.
But Miami refused to go quietly. A flurry of threes from Jack McClinton and Raymond Hicks, combined with a few missed free throws by James, narrowed the Texas lead, but the Horns were still up an uncomfortable, but fairly secure, 72-66 with 20 seconds remaining. However, with 11.9 seconds on the clock, Hicks nailed another three to make it a one-possession game, 72-69.
A pair of Abrams free throws put Texas up 74-69, but with only 1.8 seconds to go Hicks threw up a deep, off-balance three pointer with a hand in his face that hit nothing but net to make it 74-72 Texas.
A quick foul from Miami put Augustin on the line, but the Texas point guard only made one of his two attempts, meaning that Miami would have one last shot. But when James leaped in front of the deep inbounds pass, it was the end of the line for the Hurricanes and Texas was headed to the Sweet 16 and the much friendlier confines of Reliant Stadium in Houston.
Once again it was a relatively low scoring day for D.J. Augustin, putting in a solid 12 points and spending most of his time dishing out his eight assists. Mason also handed out six assists and drew the toughest defensive assignment of the day, guarding McClinton for most of the contest. In the Hurricane's opening round win over St. Mary's, the Miami junior guard scored a career-high 38 points. On Sunday he scored 18 points, in keeping with his season average of 17.7 points, but he had no assists in the game and he and his teammates were held to 40 percent shooting.
With three-point shooting from Abrams, assists from Augustin, rebounds from James, all of the above, plus a little defense from Mason, the Longhorns got what they needed from each, giving Texas the close win.
Texas' third round match-up in the NCAA Tournament will be with the Stanford Cardinal on Friday. Tip-off is set for 6:27 p.m. CST.
If the Longhorns are so fortunate as to win both games in Houston, they'll head to a championship that will be even closer to home than the Regional. This year's Final Four will be held at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio.
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