Texas Punches Ticket with Win over Baylor

Pittman leads with 16 - AP Photo/Harry Cabluck

The Texas Longhorns received good news before the game that A.J. Abrams had been cleared to play and then went out on senior night and took care of business, beating the Baylor Bears 73-57 to guarantee a winning record in Big 12 play and in doing so punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Dexter Pittman led the way for the Longhorns with 16 points and seven rebounds.

To say the Texas Longhorns own the Baylor Bears would be putting it mildly. Monday night in Austin the Longhorns kept the dominant streak going, which has now won 24 straight against the Bears, and in doing so won an all important ninth game in Big 12 play essentially punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

The Longhorns (20-9, 9-6), playing a third straight game without sophomore forward Gary Johnson, jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the opening minutes and never looked back as Baylor (17-12, 5-10) failed to ever get closer than five points the entire game.

The story of the first half was the play of Justin Mason, who has struggled on the offensive end for an extended period of time.

Mason scored in double figures in the first half with his tenth point coming 9:06 remaining in the first half. His free throw gave the Longhorns a 22-12 lead, a double digit lead that the Longhorns would enjoy the remainder of the game.

The Longhorns took a 35-24 lead into the locker room at the half with Mason and Dexter Pittman, eight points, leading the way.

Texas scored the first five points of the second half to extend the lead to 40-24 and the Bears could never get closer than 11 at 45-34.

Pittman was the story in the second half as the junior center scored eight more points to finish with 16 to lead the Longhorns.

The Longhorns stayed in control with a lead of 13 points or more the final 13 minutes of the game before closing out the Bears 73-57.

Joining Pittman in double figures was A.J. Abrams and Mason with 14 apiece.

Baylor was led by LaceDarius Dunn with 15 points on 3-12 shooting, while senior point guard Curtis Jerrells finished with 14 points on 3-17 shooting in his final game in Austin for the former Del Valle star player.

A Look at the Numbers

The Longhorns shot 48.2% (27-56) overall, 14.3% (1-7) from three and 62.1% (18-29) from the free throw line.

The Bears converted 31.6% (18-57) from the floor, 23.8% (5-21) from the three point line and 66.7% (16-24) from the foul line.

The Longhorns won the battle of the boards 41-29.

The Longhorns turned the ball over 11 times to 10 by Baylor.

The Good

The Longhorns won a must win game and did so without Gary Johnson, the team's third leading scorer and second leading rebounder.

Dexter Pittman finished around the basket going 7-8 from the floor. While the notion of finishing everything around the basket seems like a given for a 6-10, 295-pound power player, Pittman has struggled at times in that area this year.

Clint Chapman and Harrison Smith gave Texas quality minutes off the bench for a second straight game. In fact, Chapman has played his most productive stretch of basketball at Texas in the last three games averaging 5.7 points per game on 8-21 shooting, which is an improvement over the rest of the season.

Chapman has been playing much more physical on both ends of the floor.

Smith has averaged 9.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in 19 minutes per game the last two games. The Longhorns are a better rebounding team on the perimeter with Balbay logging 30 minutes per game and Smith making contributions the last two games. With Smith, continuing to make the effort defensively will be the key as well as rebounding. He has to watch the quick shots on the offensive end and understand role and what Coach Barnes is looking for as well.

Abrams didn't force shots last night. He attempted only seven field goals and recorded half of his points from the foul line. Last night was a game Texas had a distinct advantage on the interior and playing around the rim against a terrible defensive team and the Longhorns stayed the course with the game plan.

Justin Mason took advantage of a horrible man to man defensive team by driving the ball with a determined mindset and finishing around the rim as well as dishing out four assists. Mason scored 14 points on the night.

The Bad

There was not much bad in a 16-point win that was a must win to get the Longhorns into the NCAA Tournament for the 11th straight season under Rick Barnes.

From a statistic standpoint, Abrams has played the last 86 minutes and 21 seconds without recording an assist. In fact, over the last eight games, he has three assists in 294 minutes played including five games without a pass for score with four of those being 40 minutes games.

Abrams has played six Big 12 games without registering an assist and five of those, he has played the entire game.

Where Things Stand

With the win, Texas' RPI now sits at 36 with the strength of schedule 31. The Longhorns are 6-5 vs. RPI top 50 teams.

The Texas strength of schedule will go up a few notches just by playing at Kansas on Saturday and will likely finish in the mid 20's.

The best guess at this point has Texas as a possible seven seed, but could easily be in an 8/9 game. Obviously, a win Saturday in Lawrence and Texas would make big gains in RPI and would put themselves on the 6/7 fence as far as future seeding headed into the Big 12 Tournament.

More importantly, the conference race for a first round bye in the Big 12 Tournament in very interesting. Tonight, Kansas State plays at Oklahoma State. Longhorn fans are Cowboy fans for the night.

An Oklahoma State win over Kansas State would hand the Wildcats a seventh loss headed into the final game against Colorado at home.

An Oklahoma State win would improve their record to 9-6, but the Cowbuys travel to Norman on Saturday to face Oklahoma and will likely finish 9-7.

That would put Texas in position to secure a first round bye with a win at Kansas Saturday, which is obviously a tall task.

Texas holds the tiebreaker with Oklahoma State because of South Division records. Kansas State holds the tiebreaker over Texas due to their head-to-head win.

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