A.J. Abrams saved the #5 Longhorns on Saturday afternoon and was at it again Tuesday night against a Texas Southern team that is now 0-9. The Longhorns again got off to a lethargic start Tuesday as transition defense was sparse and rebounding was non-existent.
Texas got off to a quick start again, leading 7-2 after three minutes of play, but Texas Southern then showed the contest would not be a cakewalk. The Tigers scored nine points in the next two minutes to cut the lead to 13-11 and from there, the first half would be a struggle for the Longhorns (9-1).
With six minutes to play in the opening half, Texas led 29-23 after a free throw by a slumping Gary Johnson.
From that point, Texas Southern outscored the heavily favored Longhorns 11-3 to take a 34-32 lead until a Varez Ward three-pointer to end the half gave the Longhorns a 35-34 lead.
Abrams pours in 27
Abrams led the Longhorns in the opening half with 11 points, but Texas Southern kept the game close by out rebounding Texas 20-12.
The first ten minutes of the second half turned into the Dexter Pittman and Matthew Miller show. Pittman scored 11 of his career high 19 points in those ten minutes, while Tigers lead guard Miller made tough shot after tough shot over outstretched arms.
Miller scored 12 points in the first 11 minutes of the half and finished with the second half with 15. Miller scored a team high 21 to lead Texas Southern.
The Longhorns pulled away in the final 13 minutes. The Longhorns led 57-47 after back-to-back layups by Connor Atchley and Damion James.
The game would never get closer than nine again as freshman Varez Ward picked apart the Texas Southern box and one dishing out a career high seven assists to go with a career high 12 points.
Leading 84-72 with 1:26 to play, Ward converted two free throws to up the lead to 86-72. Justin Mason was then fouled and stepped to the foul line and converted both as well for the final tally of 88-72. Both players entered the game at under 50% from the line.
Abrams paced the Longhorns with 27 points. Joining Abrams in double figures was Pittman with 19 and Ward with 12.
A Look at the Numbers
Texas connected on 55.9% (33-59) from the field, 54.5% (6-11) from the three-point line and 66.7% (16-24) from the foul line.
The Tigers knocked down 57.7% (30-52) overall, 50.0% (5-10) from three and 58.3% (7-12) from the free throw line.
Texas State won the official battle of the boards 30-25, while the Longhorns won the turnover battle 16-6.
Varez Ward played easily his best game as a Longhorn. The freshman guard scored 12 points, pulled down five rebounds, dished out seven assists and recorded one steal. He knocked down four of seven from the field, his first three-pointer and 3-3 from the foul line.
Ward, the best passer on the team, calmly picked the Texas Southern box and one on Abrams apart in the second half. He flashed to the free throw line extended and made a terrific pass to Damion James for a score and kicked opposite to Atchley for a key three-pointer in which Atchley had the time to get into his shot.
Dexter Pittman set a new career-high scoring 19 points as well as pulling down five rebounds and blocking three shots in a career-high 24 minutes. In the last two games, the opponent hasn’t had a big man to pull Pittman away from the basket and work the screen and float. That has helped Pittman stay on the floor, keep his wind and allowed for plenty of offensive chances. Pittman has shown the best array of scoring moves in the last two games in his career. Throw in 12 of 15 free throws and Pittman has averaged 18 points the last two games.
Justin Mason continues to play steady running the team. It was just another night at the office with eight points, four rebounds and six assists. The best thing about Mason’s play Tuesday night was knocking down two free throws to close out the game. He must begin to convert closer to 65% from the line as conference plays draws near.
Texas ripped up the Texas Southern box and one in the second half. They got any shot they desired and still did a good job of screening for Abrams. Abrams ran his defender off of Tigers players in the zone on numerous occasions and took smart shots. Mason and Ward penetrated the zone enough to keep the Tigers honest.
The rebounding was bad and the transition defense may have been worse.
Damion James securing just two rebounds in any game is unacceptable. If James doesn’t begin to rebound the ball as he did a year ago, the Longhorns are going severely struggle in the conference grind rebounding the ball. There is no excuse to snag just two rebounds. James also struggled as he always does catching the ball. The bobbled catches throw off the timing of the offense and makes simple finishes tough. Of course, bobbling passes also gives his defender time to recover and then turns an easy deuce into free throws, where James continues to struggle.
Texas guards and bigs got beat in transition tonight for a second straight game which is disturbing. Damion James and the Texas guards must start blocking out more consistently. Pittman got beat after a made free throw, which is very poor.
Gary Johnson is fading. His production and minutes are down, but Ward bailed out Texas tonight. Johnson must improve in transition defense and has to rebound the ball every night even when he is not scoring.
The Texas bigs got lost in rotation as the Tigers ran the four-call offense made famous by Lute Olson at Arizona. Texas was faced with tough rotations that ended in easy scores for Tigers forward Ricky Broyles.
Texas gets the win and moves to 9-1. The Longhorns will now prepare for an always-physical contest against Michigan State.
This Spartan team runs more half court sets than any team Texas will play and will force Texas’ team defense to be as good as it has been this year. Michigan State will be a physical rebounding team that will punish the Longhorns on the offensive glass unless Texas gets back to putting a body on a body and moving to the basketball in the air.
Damion James’ play on the glass will likely be very key Saturday. It starts with blocking out, which he hasn’t done in a while.