Five Horns scored in double figures as freshman F P. J. Tucker (a-gain) led his team in scoring with 21 points (9-of-15 FG, 3-of-4 FT) and seven rebounds. Senior G Brandon Mouton had the hot hand early, before cooling off and finishing with 17 points (4-of-12 FG, including 3-of-8 from beyond the arc). Junior G Edgar Moreno clearly enjoyed his best game as a Longhorn with 10 points (3-of-4 FG), five assists and one steal in 24 minutes of work.
But the night belonged to Texas' post players. Senior F Brian Boddicker contributed his second double-double of the season and just the third of his career with 14 points and a game-leading 10 rebounds. Senior C James Thomas showed signs of life with seven boards, four points, a block and a steal in 10 minutes of action. Following his career night Saturday against Baylor, sophomore F Brad Buckman was a disruptive force in the low post with a game-high three blocks while adding nine points, three rebounds and two assists.
"That's what we need our post players to do every night," senior G Royal Ivey said following a 10-point, four-assist evening. "From now on out, we're going to expect that from them."
Just as important, Texas went postal defensively. The Horns held Wake's leading scorer C Eric Williams (17.2 ppg average) to four points before the big guy fouled out with 6:26 remaining. It was the first time all season Williams failed to score in double figures. Meanwhile, F Jamaal Levy (Wake's chairman of the board with 8.5 rebounds-per-game) fouled out with just three rebounds (none offensively) and six points.
"That was key," Ivey said. "Our post players were great tonight, getting the ball in the paint. They took their two big men out and that was the difference in the game."
Texas held Wake Forest to 43.1 percent from the field (28-of-65) as the Demon Deacons fell for the first time this season against 11 wins. The Horns, now 10-2 including a pair of wins over nationally ranked teams, connected on 30-of-58 FG (51.7 percent) and had their best outing of the season from the charity stripe (25-30, 83.3 percent).
Barnes gave his team an old-fashioned ass-chewing following what he considered a half-hearted 79-57 win over Baylor. During Tuesday's shoot-around, Barnes observed that his Horns "were into it. They were focused." Then, after knocking off the highest rated team in Austin since No. 3 Arkansas came calling in 1991, Barnes observed, "You could just feel it from everyone. It was just a great team win."
The Demon Deacons are actually ranked No. 1 in this week's issue of The Sporting News. (That's what a BIG win looks like. And now Barnes' Texas resume is loaded with 'em. The sixth-year hoops coach is now 12-6 against Associated Press ranked teams as Texas extended its home winning streak to 24). At the very least, it helps ease memories of December setbacks to Duke and Arizona.
"After the two tough losses, people were down on us and doubting our capabilities," Boddicker said. "On any given night, if we play the way we're capable of playing, we can play with anybody in the country. If Wake Forest is a contender for the national championship, then I think we are too."
Rankings aside, Tuesday's made-for-television prime-time affair featured two of the top scoring teams in the nation (Texas 89.6 ppg; Wake Forest 88.3 ppg). Ivey's trey put Texas on the scoreboard first but the Horns trailed 13-8 until Thomas' offensive board and putback ignited a 9-0 run with 14:32 remaining until intermission. Boddicker added a trey, and then a dunk off of his steal to give the Horns a 15-13 lead. Sophomore G Justin Gray's shot from beyond the arch quieted the Texas uprising. Gray led all scorers with 27 points (8-of-21 FG, 8-of-18 3-Pts).
Sophomore G Trent Strickland's three-pointer answered Mouton's trey as Texas clung to a 30-28 advantage. But Texas, switching to a zone defense, would own the next eight minutes. Tucker, establishing low post presence like a man three inches taller and three years older, bullied his way to a bucket to help rebuild the Texas lead. Ivey followed with a lay-up just before Levy picked up his third personal with 4:38 remaining. Moreno's bucket, followed by junior G Kenny Taylor's trey, completed a 12-2 Texas run as the Horns lead, 42-30.
"Let's play like we want our identity to be," Barnes told his team, as it built a lead it would never relinquish.
Following his coach's directive, Boddicker battled for an offensive board and, after getting knocked to the hardwood, sunk two freebies to give the Horns their largest lead at 52-36 with just under one minute to play.
"Boddicker was awesome," Ivey said. "He was playing like a warrior."
Ivey was whistled for his second personal with a half-second remaining. The Horns took a 52-39 lead into the locker room after Strickland hit a pair from the line. Texas built the half time cushion by connecting on a torrid 18-of-30 FG (60.0 percent) including 8-of-13 treys.
"I wish I could bottle that 60 percent shooting," Barnes said, "but you can't."
Indeed. The treys stopped falling for Texas (the Horns missed their first eight three-point attempts of the second half). The officials called a tighter game in paint, as Ivey was whistled for his third personal just one minute into the second half. With Texas' best defensive stopper sidelined for the next six minutes, Wake gradually chipped away at the Longhorn lead.
As the Texas lead dwindled to 56-47, Buckman managed to draw the fourth fouls from both Williams and Levy on consecutive possessions less than four minutes deep into the second half.
"We knew going in we had to get to Williams," Barnes said. "We knew going in that we would not play anyone all year who can do the damage he can do around the basket."
After Wake drew within four, the partisan crowd heaved a collective sigh of relief when Boddicker's trey hit nothing but nylon with 10:55 remaining, giving Texas a 65-58 cushion. But it was Thomas' monster slam that sent the student section (The O-Zone) into hysterics and gave Texas a 71-62 lead.
"I thought we dug ourselves into too big of a hole," Wake Forest Coach Skip Prosser said. "We had to play perfectly in the second half to come back. We were there on the precipice but they always seemed to come back with the big shot."
Wake threw a variety of defenses at the Horns (sometimes a triangle-two, sometimes a box-and-one) while its offense began kicking the ball out behind the UT defense for three-point attempts.
The Demon Deacons hit five treys in the final 4:09 but Texas almost always answered with Tucker (a steal, a key board, a bucket, clutch free throws, and a slam dunk just for grins).
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, portions of the school record 16,837 in attendance (previous 16,401 against Arkansas in January, 1982) stormed the court despite the pubic address announcement to remain in the stands.
"It was all right for him," Ivey grinned, pointing to Tucker. "He hasn't had that kind of experience. I like for the freshman to get that kind of experience."
The undersized freshman, of course, who continues to consistently stand head-and-shoulders above his teammates -- even on a night when Texas posted a team-win from top to bottom.
Texas resumes Big 12 action against Nebraska, 12:30 p.m., (CST) Saturday, at the Erwin Center.