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January 16, 2010

Texas A&M down, Kansas State to go for No. 1 Texas

Rick Barnes looked around in the first half of Saturday's 72-67 overtime win against Texas A&M and the worst of all scenarios was happening:

None of his starters were hitting shots (Damion James, Dexter Pittman, Avery Bradley, Dogus Balbay and Justin Mason were a combined 2-of-16 in the first half).

And James wasn't playing any defense on A&M's 6-7 forward Nathan Walkup, who led the Aggies with 10 first-half points as the team in maroon built a 13-point lead (33-20 with 2:32 left in the first half), Texas' largest deficit of the season.

Barnes would ultimately give James a tongue-lashing about his p---poor defense and the fact the team only had one assist at halftime. But Barnes also hit the panic button because of the team's lack of offense to start the game.

Dexter Pittman was missing bunnnies. So was everyone else. Suddenly, Barnes put his best defender, Dogus Balbay, on the bench for all but 7 minutes in the first half. Barnes went looking for someone to make shots and found only Gary Johnson and J'Covan Brown, who actually played a brilliant first half.

At the break, Brown was 3-of-6 shooting for 8 points with 4 rebounds and 1 steal. Brown (5-of-12 FG, 1-2 3pt, 3-4 FT, 10 rebs, 14 points, 1 assist, 1 TO and 1 steal) would also show huge ones down the stretch by hitting a runner with 19.4 seconds on the clock in regulation to tie the game 60-60.

That shot ended up forcing overtime because a brilliant steal by Gary Johnson and Dogus in the final seconds of regulation went unfinished as Bradley missed a layup after a coast-to-coast drive, and Alexis Wangmene missed the tip-in at the buzzer. It would have been Texas' first lead of the game and the game-winner - all in one - with no time left.

"That would have been a nice way to end it," Barnes said.

But instead, Texas had to grind and grind, just like it did all game long. Hardly what Barnes wanted going into a Big Monday game on the road against No. 13 Kansas State (15-2, 3-0 Big 12).

"I would like to have won this game without going to overtime," Barnes said. "Damion played 40-plus minutes. Gary Johnson played 33 minutes, probably more than he's played all year."

The bottom line is, guys who had been making shots for Texas weren't on Saturday (Bradley 2-of-11, Pittman 0-of-5 and Jordan Hamilton 1-of-5). And Barnes was forced to get out of his normal substitution pattern to find some offense. It sent the team into a near game-long funk.

Fortunately for Texas, this experience occurred at home. If this happened in Manhattan, Kansas, Monday night, it would have been "former No. 1 Texas" because Texas needs Balbay on the floor.

And the way for him to stay on the floor is if the guys around him are hitting shots, so that his lack of offense (and having defenders only playing him for the drive) doesn't hurt the flow.

Watching Dogus and Justin Mason on the floor together at the beginning of games is painful at times. No one defends either one on the perimeter, and it allows defenders to sag in on Dexter Pittman, like was the case against A&M on Saturday.

"In the first half, everybody tried to do it by themselves," Gary Johnson (5-of-10 FG, 8-of-12 FT, 10 rebs, 18 points) said. "But that's not what this team is about. Everything goes through Dexter, and that's what we didn't get done in the first half. They almost beat us because of it. I think we'll learn from it, and we'll be more prepared going into Monday (at Kansas State)."


THE PLAYS OF THE GAME:

--Damion James
, after going 1-of-7 in the first half, was 9-of-12 in the second half and scored on drive after drive. None his points, however, were bigger than his 3-pointer with Texas trailing 67-66 with 58.4 seconds left in overtime.

"It's all good when it goes in," James said. "If I had missed, I would have blamed myself for losing the game."

Texas never trailed again, in part, because of two defensive plays that UT assistant Rodney Terry warned the team about coming out of timeouts.

--The first was an anticipated back-door cut by Donald Sloan. Dogus Balbay with his off-hand, deflected the pass to Sloan, stole the ball, was fouled by Sloan and hit 1 of 2 free throws.

Instead of A&M tying the game, Balbay's steal and free throw put Texas up 70-67 with 34.5 ticks on the clock.

--A&M had one last attempt to the tie the game, and Rodney Terry told the team the Aggies would try to "close the gate." It's a play in which two A&M players stand a little bit apart to allow B.J. Holmes to run between them and get to the corner for a 3-ball. Then, the players close that space between them eliminate Holmes' defender, in this case, J'Covan Brown.

But James saw the play develop and got around Walkup to get over to Holmes and block the shot.

"I said, 'Oh no, he's not going to get this shot off,'" James said. "I saw J'Covan get hung up a little, and I just made sure to get a piece of it."

Walkup said it was a great play by James. A&M coach Mark Turgeon said he thought Holmes was fouled by James. Either way, it was ballgame because J'Covan Brown collected the loose ball, was fouled by Walkup with 3 seconds left and hit both free throws for a 72-67 margin.

--Honorable mention huge plays down the stretch were Avery Bradley's pull-up jumper with 1:39 left in regulation to close A&M's margin from 59-56 to 59-58.

--And J'Covan Brown's runner with 19.4 seconds left in regulation to force the OT.

STIFLING DEFENSE WINS AGAIN:

Just like in the Michigan State game, Texas made huge defensive plays down the stretch to claim victory:


(1) Balbay and Gary Johnson's steal at the end of regulation when all A&M needed was a 2 to win;

(2) Balbay's steal against Sloan, when A&M was trying to tie the game in OT with less than a minute left;

(3) James' block of B.J. Holmes' 3-point attempt with 4 seconds left in OT.

"That's what's great about our team," said Balbay, who held Donald Sloan (21 points on 9-of-21 FG) to only one basket (a long-range 3-pointer) over an 11-minute stretch late in the second half, when Texas erased a 9-point defict and got back in the game.

"There are going to be nights when we don't hit a bunch of shots, but our defense will keep us in it."

THE STAR OF THE SHOW:

Damion James' final line read like this: 10-of-19 shooting, 2-4 3pt, 4-6 FT, 12 rebounds, 1 foul, 26 points, 0 assists, 3 turnovers, 3 blocks, 1 steal in 40-plus minutes.


"I'm so tired," James said. "Their team played so hard. They came out and punched us in the mouth. I go down on myself in the first half because I missed a couple of shots I normally make.

"I shouldn't do that though because when my team sees my head down, they get down, too. I need to be out there as a leader, so in the second half I changed my swagger."

He can say that again.

"He got it going," said A&M coach Mark Turgeon. "He banked one in on us. But the 3 was big. We had a freshman on him, and he didn't do a good job in transition on him.

"Damion's a great player. He was great before the year started, and he's one of the most improved players in the country. He gets a double-double most every night. He did what seniors do. He took it over and made all the plays."

Rick Barnes added to the praise for James:

"He's been around. He's improved a lot, and I think today he showed why he's the player he is and what he's developed into. He didn't flinch. He kept playing and made some big shots.

"He did some good things and what he did today in the second half, that's what you expect from a senior who's been around and played in as many games as he's played in. That's what you'd hope, I should say."

WHAT MARK TURGEON SAID:

--On Texas,
"Their young guys hit some big shots. Bradley and J'Covan Brown. Texas is fantastic. They've got so many players, so many weapons. Fortunately for us, some of those weapons weren't firing as well as they normally do and made our defense look better."

--On the game's tempo, "We were dicating the clock. Overtime was different. In overtime, I thought Bradley and Balbay took over the game defensively. They are as good on-the-ball defenders as there is in the country. I thought we had the backdoor for Sloan. I thought he got held on it."

--On Damion James' block of B.J. Holmes at the end of OT, "I thought B.J. got fouled. He got knocked over."

--On how Texas and K-State matchup for Monday's game, Turgeon said, "Tough environment. Texas is a little deeper at the guard. K-State is great at home. K-State has just as many big bodies, and they just keep bringing them in. It's going to be a great game."

--On the double technicals on Gary Johnson and Bryan Davis with 2:18 left in overtime that counted as Davis' fifth foul (Davis was big for A&M with 17 points, 4 rebs, 4 blocks and 2 steals):

"It had to be pretty serious to call a technical. I'd like to see it. He (the official) said it was pretty serious, so he had to call it. I didn't see it."

--On letting one get away, "It was our game. We couldn't make plays. They're pretty good, you know. They stepped up. They pressured us in a 40-minute game and we had 11 turnovers. I'm proud of my guys.

"We've gone in to two great road environments and dictated tempo. But we lack a little depth because of some things that happened, and we just have to overcome it."

ON LOOKING AHEAD TO KANSAS STATE:

--Dexter Pittman: "It's going to be physical, real physical. They got us at home last year, so we know what they are capable of. We just have to go up there and throw the first punch.

"They have great guards, but we have the best defensive guards in the country in Dogus and Avery, so it will be a great matchup."

--Damion James: "I'm tired. But this is what you play the game for. Coach said 12,000 people plus will be there. This is what you come back to play college basketball for. We know they play hard-nosed basketball, real physical. So it's going to be great.

"With Texas being on your jersey, you're going to get everyone's best shot either way. I guess with having No. 1 next to Texas it makes it even worse."

--Rick Barnes:

"What happened today, I didn't expect us to get down 13, but I expected that kind of game. If our players think they're just going to show up and win, they can forget that.

"Monday night, it's going to be flipped. They are going to have the house, and I hope our guys are ready for that. I wish we could have won this game without going into overtime. Damion played 40-plus minutes. Gary played 33 minutes, probably the most he's played.

"Kansas State is very physical and really get after you on defense. They are going to guard you and get after you. They are physical inside. We know what Denis Clemente did to us last year. And after watching this game, they are probably going to think they can go inside all game long."


NOTES:

--Texas shot 27.3 percent in the first half (9-of-33) and finished the game hitting 24 of 68 (35.3 percent).

--A&M shot 37.9 percent for the game but was held to 0-of-7 from the 3-point line in the second half after hitting 8 3s in the first half.

--Texas was 3-of-12 from 3-point land for the game.

--Texas actually made more free throws (21 of 33, 63.6 percent) than A&M (13 of 23, 56.5 percent). But that's not saying much. Texas missed some free throws down the stretch - two by Gary Johnson and one by Balbay - that made things interesting until the final possession.

--Texas outrebounded A&M 50-49 and dominated the bench points (34-7) to show its depth.

--The game was a sellout (16,734).

--J'Covan Brown had his first career double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds)

--Damion James tied Chris Mihm for the Big 12 career record for double-doubles with 47.

--Gary Johnson recorded his first double-double of the season (18 points, 10 rebounds).

--Dexter Pittman tied a school record for most blocks in a half in a Big 12 game with five, equaling the mark of Brad Buckman vs. Baylor (1st half) on Jan. 9, 2005 and Kevin Durant vs. K-State (2nd half) on Feb. 3, 2007.

--Texas is 17-0 for the first time since the 1932-33 season, when UT went 20-0 to start.


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