"I felt very comfortable in myself and in my teammates in situations like that," said Mouton, who paced the Horns with 17 points (5-of-12 FG, 5-of-5 FT). "We're fortunate that we pulled out the win."
Texas is also fortunate that freshman F P.J. Tucker also hit both his freebies with 27 seconds remaining because Raider G Andre Emmett immediately answered with a trey to make it a 72-71 nailbiter. The only underclassman in Saturday's starting lineup, Tucker turned in his first double-double (15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds) since the Dec. 29 win over George Washington.
"The bigger it is, the better some guys like it," head coach Rick Barnes said. "I would put P.J. in that class."
However, it was the Class of '04 that was honored during pre-game festivities.
"It was a great day for our seniors," said G Royal Ivey, who started at the point and finished with 11 points, seven assists and one block during a team-high 37 minutes of action. "We've been through a lot in this program. It was our last home game but not our last game."
All told, five Longhorns scored in double-figures on an afternoon when their team did not shoot particularly well (26-of-62, 41.9 percent). That would include junior C Jason Klotz, who is unquestionably the most improved player in the Longhorn lineup. The fiery Klotz added 11 points (4-of-8 FG, 3-of-4 FT), six rebounds and one blocked shot in just 20 minutes. His efforts drew the applause of Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight.
"If I could have any player in this league, it would be Klotz," said Knight. "He would be my choice over anybody. He plays his ass off all the time. He's hard to play against. He gets huge baskets. He might get just six points, but maybe it's the go-ahead bucket or maybe it's the tiebreaker. He is tough. And there is nobody in the history of the world that appreciate toughness more than I do."
During the post-game press conference, a wide-eyed Klotz was still stoked that a coaching icon and contentious, hard-to-please personality like Knight would not only speak to reporters about him but also to congratulate him in the hallway for his performance.
"I think he said something about us going on to the Final Four," Klotz said, "but I couldn't understand him. He kind of scared me. I was star struck."
When informed of Knight's accolades, Klotz responded: "That's a great compliment, but he can't have me. I'm at Texas right now. I love these guys right here."
His own coach would concur. With C James Thomas (0-of-3 FG) and former starting F Brad Buckman (0-of-2 FG) combining for zero points, Klotz provided the front court stalwart that Barnes has been coveting all season.
"I thought Jason's baskets inside were really, really key," Barnes said. "He gives us the post presence that we need."
The game was surprisingly tight, considering Tech had dropped its last four road games by an average of 18 points, including a 72-44 licking at Nebraska on Tuesday. The Raiders have now lost seven of their past 10, dating back to the 62-61 OT loss to Texas in Lubbock on Jan. 26, to see their overall mark slide to 19-10. When asked if he was disappointed that his ballclub was now 7-7 in league play, Knight said, "I'd be disappointed if we were 13-1."
Texas improved to 21-4 on the season, setting up that critical ESPN "Big Monday" showdown against Oklahoma State. At 12-2, the Longhorns and the Cowboys are tied for first place in Big 12 Conference standings. OSU gave Texas it's only black eye at home in the past 31 games, winning 72-67 on Jan. 24, and Monday's game will determine the league's top squad heading into the post-season.
Things got off to a ragged start. Tied at 11 midway through the first half, Texas was just 4-of-15 from the field and guilty of six turnovers but dominated the offensive glass. It was due, in part, to the fact that Barnes opted for a taller starting lineup (Thomas, Brian Boddicker and substituting early with Klotz and Buckman) that will never be confused with ballhandlers. The Red Raiders were just as chilly from the floor, misfiring on 12 of their first 16 FG attempts.
"There are some times when that will happen," Mouton surmised. "It could be because it was Senior night, or maybe not. The good thing is we bounced back. We kept to our game plan. We started feeding the ball inside and the shots started falling."
Senior G Michael Marshall gave Tech its biggest lead of the game at 21-16 before Mouton answered with his first bucket of the game with 5:34 remaining until the break. Junior G Kenny Taylor's (4-of-6 FG, 11 points) trey knotted the game at 26. Following G Ronald Ross' jumper, Mouton connected from beyond the arc to regain the Longhorn lead, 29-28. Texas took a 33-30 halftime advantage into the locker room after Ivey sank a pair of FTs.
The Horns went nearly four minutes without a FG to open the second half before Taylor's three-ball made it 39-34. Mouton's traditional three-point play gave Texas a 42-36 lead after 6-9 F Robert Tomaszek picked up his fourth personal. Taylor nailed another trey, followed by a Klotz bucket, as Texas finally had some short-lived breathing room, 47-38.
Mouton's trey as the shot clock neared zero gave Texas its first double-digit lead, 54-44, with 11:08 remaining. It was a desperation heave that left more than one of his teammates shaking his head in disbelief.
"He just threw it up," Ivey laughed. "Brandon is a great shooter. He had a shot. He got it off. It was clean. It went down. We needed that."
Tech would not go away quietly. Emmett's game-high 21 points kept the visitors in it. He connected on three of his team's final four FG, including a key three-pointer, to make it a single possession game in the closing minute. It was Tech's fight to the finish that Knight is taking from another close loss to the Horns. (Texas is now 16-2 versus Tech since the formation of the Big 12 and 12-1 during the Rick Barnes era.)
"From our standpoint, what would probably stand out most is that (Texas) had a chance to break it open and we got back into it which was really good for us," Knight said. "We haven't played very well on the road. We had things get away from us on the road. That was a good step for us today."
And an even bigger step for Texas, which is now within hours of a shot at the conference title.