AUSTIN - Inside the Austin City Limits, the University of Arkansas basketball program showed some much-needed life on Wednesday night – just not enough to pull out a win against an old rival.
Texas freshman superstar Kevin Durant scored 28 points and grabbed 13 rebounds and fellow rookie D.J. Augustin added 16 points to lift the youthful Longhorns to a 80-76 back-and-forth win over the Razorbacks before a crowd of 14,451 fans at the Frank Erwin Center.
But it was Justin Mason, yet another freshman, who had what proved to be the game-winning basket for Texas (8-2) when he came up with a clutch three-point play with 12.6 seconds left and the Razorbacks (8-3) leading 76-75.
Mason drove the lane, scored while fouling out Arkansas' Sonny Weems and then cashed in the free throw to put the Longhorns up 78-76 in the first game between the old Southwest Conference foes since 1991.
Razorback junior Gary Ervin, who hit a 3-pointer to tie the game 74-74 and then hit Weems with an in-bounds pass for a basket that put his team ahead with just over 20 seconds left, missed two free throws with 4.4 seconds left that could have tied it.
" We put ourselves in position to win the game," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "We did a lot of good things. Those kids played their hearts out. They played with great energy and toughness out there…We grew up a lot as a basketball team. I don't believe in moral victories, but I do think our team took a nice step on the road. But we have got to get to the point where we close it out with defensive stops and free throw shooting. "
Patrick Beverley had 19 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists, Charles Thomas 19 points and 10 rebounds and Weems 15 points for Arkansas (8-3), who was coming in off a bad Saturday afternoon home loss to Texas Tech and whose three losses this season have all been to Big 12 squads.
Beverley played all 40 minutes, Thomas 36 and Townes - who had 9 points and 6 rebounds – logged 32 minutes before leaving with a sprained ankle and Arkansas ahead.
"They gave a yeoman's peformance," Heath said. "Those guys worked their tails off and had to do it on both ends offensively and matching up with their players…We put a lot of pressure on their front line and down the stretch where were probably a little bit spent. We have got to get some more bench power from our front line so we can give Charles and Darian a little bit more help."
There was no answer for the 6-10 Durant, who is expected to be one of the top five picks in the 2007 NBA Draft and will likely not make it to Fayetteville next season for game two of a four-year home-and-home contract that Arkansas and Texas have entered into.
"The one thing that we just didn't have an answer for was Kevin Durant," Heath said. "He had 28 points and 13 rebounds and he is just a big, big-time basketball player. He is a hard man to match up with. Different guys took their swings at him, but we just didn't have the answer for that kid who is a terrific player."
It was a game where Arkansas (8-3) trailed by 10 in the first half, rallied to take a six-point lead early in the second half on sizzling shooting and then watched Texas' man-to-man pressure take the game back away.
Arkansas appeared to be on the verge of being blown out early when falling down 19-9 early before switching to a box-and-one on A.J. Abrams (14 points) .
But they had cut it to 41-37 by halftime.
The Razorbacks roared out of the locker room in the second half, shooting 72 percent from the field early on and taking a 42-41 when Beverley swished a 3-pointer.
Thomas' bucket inside pushed that advantage to 53-47 and forced a timeout by the home team.
The Longhorns responded with a 13-2 run – the last 11 being unanswered points and spree being capped by Augustin's steal and layup that pushed Texas ahead 60-55 with 12:01 remaining in the game.
But right back came the Razorbacks with seven straight points of their own and they stretched the lead out to 67-62 on Steven Hill's basket with just over eight minutes left and his free throw with 7:53 left.
Abrams got loose for two 3-pointers sandwiched around a basket by Durant to push Texas back ahead 71-69 with 3:26 showing on the clock.
Ervin's 3-pointer tied it 74-74 with less than two minutes left and then Durant walked after contact with Thomas.
Arkansas had the ball with a chance to go ahead, but Beverley's 3-point shot came up short and Durant hit the first of two free throws to give his team a 75-74 lead with 48.1 seconds left.
The Razorbacks will return to the court Friday night when they host ORU (5-5) in a 7:05 p.m. game at Bud Walton Arena.
Texas 80, Arkansas 76
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