Texas Fends Off Late Providence Punch, 79-77

When push comes to shove -- as it literally did when the Texas basketball team fought its way through an enraged Providence mob after its 79-77 overtime win &#151; freshman F <B>P.J. Tucker&#146;s </B>uncontested lay-up will likely be the most contested shot in college hoops this season. Tucker added a team-high nine rebounds and six steals to his box score.

The result, however, was No. 16/18 Texas’ first big win of the young season in a slugfest at No. 25 Providence. The Horns raise their record to 8-2 while the Friars, off to their best start in nine years, saw their mark fall to 8-2.

If football is a game of inches, then hoops is a game of nano-seconds.

With the score knotted at 77 and 3.6 seconds remaining in overtime, the precocious freshman (in just his third start) went coast-to-coast, deftly dribbled the ball behind his back near midcourt, and laid it in just before time expired. Or did he?

Game officials and coaches convened at the scorers table in lengthy deliberation as a sold-out Dunkin’ Donuts Center, already stoked by their squad’s 21-point comeback, worked themselves into a lather waiting for the final verdict. Bear in mind there is no love lost between Providence partisans and Texas head coach Rick Barnes, who ran the Friar program from 1988-94. Despite leading Providence to its only Big East title, there remain "a lot of people who hate him up there" for vacating his post for Clemson, senior G Royal Ivey said three days ago.

As referees conferred around replay monitors, a game official told Barnes that the outcome would be really close. Barnes then told him to be absolutely certain if the decision was to waive off the basket.

They didn’t.

As a cascade of taunts and bottles were tossed on the court, Barnes tried to get Texas players into the locker room as quickly as possibly — but not before a shoving match ensued between Providence fans and members of the Longhorn contingent. Before then, it was so physical a contest that three Texas players (Ivey, Brian Boddicker, Brad Buckman) were sent to the sideline because they were bleeding.

If January is this mad, what will March be like? All in all, the first game of ESPN’s Big Monday could not have offered a more fantastic finish. But it should not have come down to Tucker’s unflinching bucket.

Ranked for just the fifth time in 20 years, Providence did not even score a FG until 6:36 remaining before halftime. For the second time in as many games, Barnes opened with three guards with sophomore Kenton Paulino running the point and bringing senior James Thomas off the bench.

After missing Friday’s game against UTA with a knee injury, senior G Brandon Mouton returned and contributed 20 points (6-of-14 FG, 6-of 7 FT). His trey gave Texas its largest lead, 32-11, at the 7:36 mark. Meanwhile, Texas collected 18 points off of ten first half Friar turnovers.

Providence survived the first 20 minutes by nailing 20-21 from the line and launching a 17-4 run to draw within 36-28 with 2:11 remaining. The Friars frustrated the Horns after junking their patented 2-3 zone to a full-court, man-to-man defense. Junior C Jason Klotz’s bucket gave Texas a 41-33 lead at the break. By then, the announced crowd of 12,993 was sensing the kind of comeback that their team pulled off against then No. 14 Illinois, winning 70-51 at the same Jimmy V Classic that saw Texas fall to Arizona (No. 3 in this week’s AP Poll).

The Friars closed to within 48-44 after sophomore G Donnie McGrath connected from beyond the arch with 14:39 remaining. But behind Ivey’s career high 22 points (8-of-13 FG, 4-of-7 FT), the Horns began to pull away as the senior followed his jumper with a pair of free throws.

Texas upped its lead, 61-49, after Boddicker hit his second trey of the night but the Friars remained within striking distance, 64-58, with less than eight minutes remaining. The game appeared to be over when Mouton hit a pair of free throws after he was intentionally fouled on a driving lay-up. His four-point play gave Texas a 69-58 cushion with 6:35 left in regulation but, from there, Providence closed with a 16-2 run.

Junior F Ryan Gomes, who led all scorers with a season-high 28 points (6-of-11 FG, 15-of-17 FT), hit from outside the arch to pull his team within 71-69 with 2:50 left. Following a pair of McGrath freebies 49 ticks later, the score was knotted for the first time since the opening tip.

The Friars took their first lead of the game, 72-71, with 90 seconds on the game clock before adding a pair of free throws. Now trailing 74-71, Ivey collected a look-what-I-found deflected Paulino pass and calmly sank the trey to send the thriller into overtime.

Now, both squads were running on fumes. All Providence could manage during the first 4:56 of OT was four turnovers while all Texas had to show for it was Tucker’s tip-in and 1-of-2 free throws. But after McGrath hit the three-pointer with 3.7 seconds remaining, it set the stage for Tucker’s razzle-dazzle game-saving, legend-building bucket.

Neither team shot well from the floor as Texas was true on 27-of-65 FGs (.415) while Providence connected on 18-of-42 (.424). Both teams grabbed 32 boards, while Texas’ 19 offensive rebounds kept Providence on the defensive. Texas was 18-of-24 (.750) from the charity stripe. Here’s a stat the Horns won’t see the rest of the year: Providence was 35-of-41 from the line.

Texas opens Big 12 play Saturday when it hosts Baylor (7:30 p.m. CST) before the eagerly anticipated Jan. 13 home game against No. 4 Wake Forest.

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