Texas holds off Cyclones 75-67

(AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)

The #8 Texas Longhorns got Big 12 play started on the right foot Saturday in Austin beating the Iowa State Cyclones 75-67 behind the stellar play of sophomore Gary Johnson. Johnson continued his hot streak scoring 17 points to go with nine rebounds and three blocked shots.

The #8 Texas Longhorns fought off a pesky Iowa State team on Saturday in Austin pulling away late for a 75-67 win. The Longhorns were led again by sophomore forward Gary Johnson, who scored 17 points as well as pulling down nine rebounds and blocking three shots.

The Cyclones (11-5, 0-1) employed a sagging man-to-man defense, which Texas should be getting accustomed to, giving every Longhorn with the exception of A.J. Abrams space to shoot from anywhere on the floor outside eight feet.

Texas was helped by the return of Connor Atchley as the senior scored seven points and grabbed six rebounds, but more importantly blocked four shots and covered teammates on the defensive end.

The Longhorns took control of the game at the 11-minute mark of the first half shortly after Iowa State's leading scorer and rebounder Craig Brackins went to the bench with his second foul.

An Atchley three-pointer gave the Longhorns (12-3, 1-0) a 15-11 lead. Back-to-back jumpers by Johnson and Damion James, who scored a team-high 19 points, followed the three by Atchley to extend the lead to five after an Iowa State three-pointer.

The Longhorns extended the lead to double digits. Leading 19-14, Johnson scored six points in a two-minute span to help push the lead to 27-16.

Iowa State responded down 29-16 scoring six straight points to cut the lead to seven. The Longhorns and Cyclones then played a game of back and forth for the next 17 minutes until Texas seized control for the final time with five minutes to play.

Craig Brackins put together a solid second half for the Cyclones after the early foul trouble. Brackins led Iowa State with 20 points and 13 rebounds and was joined in double figures by Lucca Staiger with 15 and Diante Garrett with 13 points and seven rebounds.

James led the Longhorns with 19 points. Johnson chipped in 17 and Dexter Pittman 12.

A Look at the Numbers

The Longhorns shot 45.9% (28-61) overall, 21.4% (3-14) from three and 57.1% (16-28) from the free throw line.

The Cyclones converted 38.8% (26-67) from the floor, 34.8% (8-23) from the three-point line and 58.3% (7-12) from the foul line.

Iowa State won the battle of the boards in convincing fashion 42-38, including 13 offensive caroms.

The Longhorns won the turnover battle 10 to five.

The Good

The Longhorns won their Big 12 opener making just three of 14 from three and 16 of 28 from the foul line. Scoring 75 points while leaving that many points on the table was impressive.

Gary Johnson continues to play big time basketball for Texas. Like a broken record, the sophomore forward scored inside and out, rebounded the ball on both ends and blocked multiple shots. Johnson scoring spurt in the first half was key in the Longhorns building a comfortable lead. Throw in 5-7 from the free throw line and zero turnovers and the sixth man played one of the best games of his young career.

Damion James had one of his better offensive showings of the year. Iowa State was content to sag off of the junior and let him catch and shoot from 14 feet and out. James knocked down 8-16 shots and dished out two assists without a turnover. The Cyclones simply didn't have a player that could rise up and contest jumpers by James.

Dexter Pittman was very productive when on the court on the offensive end. In just 15 minutes, Pittman scored 12 points and pulled down five rebounds knocking down 5-6 from the field and 2-2 from the foul line.

Texas didn't commit many unforced turnovers. Playing against an opponent that wasn't capable of pressuring the ball and then on top of it played a sagging man-to-man defense, the Longhorns simply had to play with patience and not force off the dribble and allow for the sagging defense to collapse.

Varez Ward made a series of terrific post entry passes and Pittman was the beneficiary. Ward has the feel for taking the extra dribble, creating the correct passing angle and the feel and timing for making a catchable bounce pass at an angle in which the Texas post players can go up in one motion and score. Ward was equally impressive on defensive with the exception of one possession in which he didn't fight through and stay on his man.

The Bad

The Longhorns didn't defend the three-point line as well as they can. They were caught in scramble situations and rotated off of shooters. The result was an Iowa State team that struggles scoring knocking down eight three-pointers. A couple of times, the Longhorn guards did a good job of fighting over/through ball screens and the Texas big men were late recovering.

Texas gave up too many offensive rebounds to a poor rebounding team. Allowing 42 rebounds is not up to par by the Longhorns even if Iowa State played a sagging man-to-man and thus kept the Longhorn players from attacking the offensive glass. To Iowa State's credit, allowing James to catch and shoot or put the ball on the floor and pull up outside 15-feet takes him out of weak side offensive rebounding position. Some credit to Iowa State, but Texas played into their hands by not attacking the offensive glass from the baseline when the mid-range jumpers were being released at the elbows.

Justin Mason's free throw shooting was horrific. The junior knocked down just one of eight from the foul line. He is shooting just 41.5% (17-41) from the free throw line on the season. That number is simply unacceptable for a player as experienced as Mason that has shot 66.2% and 58.3% in prior seasons.

Overall

A win is a win. Saturday was one of those situations coming off of an emotional, hard fought game on Tuesday and a big time rivalry game on Monday at Oklahoma. Texas will now face their toughest defensive task of the season in terms of slowing down a great player against the Sooners. Blake Griffin may well be the best player in the country, but the key will be making him work on the defensive end as his effort is hit and miss at times on the defensive end. Monday's game will be rugged contest between the top two-preseason teams in the conference with the winner grabbing the early poll position in the Big 12 race.

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