Hoops: Texas, Tucker Trounce Brown In Opener

T.J. is gone; P.J. is here.

Freshman P.J. Tucker, the 6-5 forward from Tobacco Road, came out smoking Monday in Texas’ 89-51 home opening win over Brown (that would be the Ivy League university, not the football coach). The Raleigh product tied the school’s freshman debut record for points (18) while breaking the freshman debut mark for rebounds (13).

"I went out there and played as hard as I could the whole game," said Tucker, who led all scorers after draining 7-of-11 buckets in just 21 minutes of work. "I think I did all right for my first game. My teammates gave me the ball in the best spots. I missed a couple plays that I should have made but, overall, I did all right."

In this case, "all right" translates into the best coming-out party (statistically) for a Longhorn hoopster in 25 years. The last time a Texas freshman recorded a double-double in his collegiate debut was when Ron Baxter turned the trick at the start of the 1977-78 season.

Head coach Rick Barnes is so sold on Tucker that the only thing that surprised him about the freshman’s performance was that he missed two free throws (4-of-6).

"P.J. is just a basketball player," Barnes said. "He just has a feel for the game. P.J. is a guy who can go out and guard people. He’s a post player inside but working his way to the perimeter each day. He has a great knack for scoring."

As expected, senior G Royal Ivey ran the floor during Day One of the post-T.J. Ford era, but the point will also be run by committee this season. The New York native, who started at point guard for 23 games during his freshman season, had but two assists against three turnovers in 23 minutes. Ivey, the best defensive guard in the Big 12, was 3-of-7 for six points and added three steals to his line score.

Barnes benched Ivey for picking up a silly first-half foul, stating that "those add up" and can become costly should your point guard get into foul trouble. Junior college transfer Edgar Moreno ran the show for 20 minutes, contributing two assists, six points (2-of-3) and no turnovers.

Yet speedy shooting guard Kenny Taylor looked the most fluid when pushing the ball up court, adding three dazzling dishes that were actually reminiscent of you-know-who. The Baylor transfer hit 4-of-10 from three-point land to finish with 12 points and one steal in his Longhorn debut.

"Kenny looks like he has point guard skills," Barnes observed. "He has good vision. He really handled the ball."

Junior C Jason Klotz started in place of senior C James Thomas after the Chairman of the Boards tweaked an ankle in last week’s exhibition game. Yet Thomas quickly established himself, grabbing 19 rebounds (that’s no misprint) in 23 minutes. The senior now has 905 career rebounds, trailing only Baxter, Chris Mihm and LaSalle Thompson on UT's all-time list.

"My teammates helped me get that accomplished," Thomas said, "but I’m not done yet."

Senior F Brian Boddicker, starting in place of sophomore F Brad Buckman (ankle), tallied 8 of Texas’ first 11 points as the Horns held a four point lead in the ragged opening minutes. Taylor got on the stat sheet for the first time in a Longhorn uniform when he drained a trey to make it 16-7 at the 13:29 mark. Tucker’s jumper at the top of the key two minutes later completed a 9-0 run as Texas led, 20-7.

Following G Brandon Mouton’s trey, Thomas’ layup gave Texas its largest lead of the first half, 32-14, with 4:21 remaining until intermission. Tucker’s putback gave the Horns a 38-21 advantage at halftime. Mouton finished as the game’s second-leading scorer with 16 points (6-of-13 FG, including 2-of-3 treys).

Texas doubled-up the visitors, 50-25, following Tucker’s layup with 13:43 remaining. It was also the Longhorns’ first transition bucket against Brown’s zone defense. Zones, of course, were particularly irksome for Texas last season even before facing Syracuse’s patented defense in the National Semifinal game. The Horns shot 42.9 percent (33-of-77) from the field, including 6-of-21 treys. Texas didn’t exactly tear it up from the free throw line, hitting 17-of-28 (60.7 percent).

"Obviously that’s not good enough and we missed a lot of easy ones around the basket," Barnes said. "We need to be able to convert against zone. We did okay at times."

Despite the lopsided margin, Texas was never quite able to get into a rhythm against an outmatched opponent (to be expected during the first game of the season). The Horns controlled the tempo by controlling the boards, pulling down a monster 62 rebounds resulting in 28 second-chance points.

Brown, the Ivy League runner-up last season, launched almost as many airballs as did Texas Tech QB B.J. Symons at Royal-Memorial Stadium Saturday. The visitors were an ice-cold 19-of-63 (30.2 percent) from the field including 4-of-22 (18.2 percent) from three-point range.

But the night belonged to Tucker. Nearly all the Carolina schools recruited him early in his prep career but backed off when his grades began to slip.

"Texas stayed with me, and that’s why I’m here right now," Tucker said.

His freshman debut elicited praise even from a hardnosed senior.

"With the addition of P.J., we can go long away," Thomas said. "He can rebound and he can score down low. He’s a good asset for us."

Keeping in mind that "We are the Joneses", the new-look Erwin Center now boasts a ring of 28 luxury suites at the top of the arena section, increasing capacity to 16,837 (largest in the Big 12). The arena now features an amped-up Jumbotron scoreboard and LCD screen. (This way you can keep current with important information such as Tucker’s field goal percentage as well as his favorite movies.)

Even so, there was room to roam in the cavernous Drum as a paltry 6,391 turned out for the season-opener of a nationally ranked team that returns four starters from the most successful squad in school history. Checking in this week at No. 11 (coaches poll) and No. 12 (Associated Press), Texas set a new school record for consecutive weeks in the AP poll (20).

The Horns are now 22-5 in home openers since the Erwin Center opened prior to the 1977-78 season. Texas’ next contest is set for 7 p.m., Monday, Nov. 24 against Sam Houston State at the Drum.

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