Texas relied on a balanced offensive attack, including significant contributions off the bench from Brian Boddicker and Sydmill Harris, to dispose of UNC-A. Brandon Mouton led the Horns in scoring with 15 and James Thomas added 13 (plus six boards), but Boddicker's 14 point-12 rebound effort and Harris' long-range bombing (three of six from beyond the arc on his way to 11 points) sparked UT at several crucial points in the contest.
That Boddicker would even play looked doubtful earlier in the week, at least according to his head coach, who said the junior forward turned his ankle in practice on Sunday and, at the time, was in obvious and severe pain. That Boddicker would ever be a consistent rebounding threat also looked doubtful earlier in his UT career, but he seems to have a new-found desire to develop that part of his game.
"Brian has had his two best rebounding games in his last two outing," Barnes said. "It's important that Brian does that. We've talked to him a lot about that -- his job is to block his man and Brian understands that now and he understands the fundamentals of blocking out."
To Boddicker, the fundamental is to simply put a body on people and the ball kept will keep coming your way, as if did in Birmingham. Whatever the method, it worked to the tune of 12 boards.
And then there's T.J. Ford. The Horns' sophomore point guard had a quiet scoring day, contributing eight points (half of those from the line), but he dazzled with his passing three, count 'em, three times with behind the back passes on his way to a game-high 11 assists. Ford by himself more than doubled UNC-A's team assist output (five). He also blocked a shot, turned in three steals and cleared the glass for seven rebounds!
Although it wasn't enough to overcome Ford and Texas, the Bulldogs countered with super guard play from Andre Smith and inside work from Ben McGonagil. For the game, Smith led the Bulldogs with 19 points and McGonagil added 16. Texas defenders simply could not keep up with Smith, who consistently beat UT's best perimeter defender Royal Ivey (among others) off the dribble, bursting to the baseline for relatively easy buckets.
Smith, though, reserved his praise for his Texas guard counterpart. "T.J. is probably the fastest guy I've seen this year," the senior said. "And he gets the ball to his teammates where they can score."
The Horns scored early and often on the Bulldogs, opening up a 12-2 lead less than five minutes into the game and stretching the advantage to 19 points near the eight-minute mark of the first half on a beautiful Mouton baseline drive.
"We really wanted to come out and get our running game going and I think we did a good job of that," Barnes said. "Through the middle part of the first half, though, Asheville settled down, and for the last four minutes (of the half) controlled the game."
After Mouton's score, UNC-A outscored Texas 16-7 to close out the half.
The Bulldogs fought back with three three pointers and some nifty inside work by Ben McGonagil, who scored six points during that stretch, including a bucket over the defending Thomas that brought the No. 16 seed to within 10.
"Andre (Smith) hit a basket, I made a shot, and it was like, 'Hey, we can play with these guys'," McGonagil said.
UNC-Asheville even had an opportunity to cut the lead to single digits on its final first half possession. A miss and a Thomas block, though, sent Texas to the lockerroom with a 36-26 lead. The 'Dogs still had the mo and got the gradually filling arena into a game that the Horns looked to be in control of early (silencing the always pro-underdog crowd).
On its first possession of the second half, Asheville quickly managed to accomplish what it couldn't on the last play of the first half. Alex Kragel knocked down a jumper that trimmed the Texas lead to eight, 36-28, the closest margin since the first four minutes of the game.
The Horns responded by scoring on seven straight possessions. Texas didn't blow it open -- the Bulldogs touched the bottom of the net on five of their eight possessions over that same span to keep the margin reasonable at 51-39 at the 15 minute mark -- but it also didn't allow UNC-A to make a run of its own that could have substantially closed the gap and left the outcome in doubt till the final minutes.
Instead, the Horns built on that 12-point lead over the next 10 minutes, pushing ahead by 21 with inside six to play and holding on to that margin at the final buzzer.
"I think the team understood how good a team Asheville has," Barnes said. "This time of the year I try to compare our (tournament) opponents to someone in the (Big 12). I likened it to playing Baylor in terms of shooting threes and free throws and Texas Tech in terms of running their O."
Think that last one got the players attention given the results in Dallas last Friday night?
"The players understood this wasn't gonna be easy," the Texas head coach added.
And in this one, they came to play from the opening tip (jumping out to the early lead), they played better transition and perimeter defense (UNC-A shot only 23.8 percent from downtown, 37.1 percent overall) and they rebounded (47-29 edge). Which added up to a 'W'.