In a game billed as a must-win for the NCAA Tournament hopes of both teams, Texas bludgeoned A&M 75-40 in the Erwin Center Wednesday night. A stifling Longhorn defense held the Ags without a field goal for the final four minutes of the first half and then the opening four of the second half, extending a 27-16 lead all the way to 48-19 quicker than you could say NIT.
"Defense in first half was the difference. I thought we were outstanding defensively," Rick Barnes said. "We played with a lot of energy from the very beginning and we got a lot of great efforts from a lot of guys."
The Horns (17-7, 6-5) earned it on both ends of the floor. Texas knocked down 45.8 percent from the field (eight-of-15 from downtown) and held the Ags (15-7, 4-7) to just 13 field goals on a measly 26 percent shooting (five-of-24 from deep).
You won't find this one in the box score, but Barnes credits something as simple as 15-20 minutes of practice with the team's improved play.
"We've been able to practice," he said. "We went through an eight- or nine- day period where we couldn't practice (because of injuries). Now we've had six pretty good days of practice in a row. I just think at any point of time, even if it's just 15-20 minutes, you've gotta have 15-20 minutes of high intensity competition."
The game in Austin represented almost a polar opposite of the contest last month in College Station when the Horns, still with P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge, dropped a 74-63 decision to the Ags. In that one, Texas fell behind early and hit a season-low 32.3 percent from the field while A&M stroked the nets for 47.6 percent.
"We just came out and took that as a momentum booster," Daniel Gibson said of that earlier setback. "We played as hard as we could, as long as we could."
In this one, Texas jumped on top immediately as Gibson nailed a long three pointer on the Horns' first possession. A&M answered a couple of possessions later with a two, but from there it was virtually all Texas. After the Ags trimmed the margin to four, 16-12, with 10 to play before the break, the Horns outscored A&M 21-4 to go into the half up 37-16.
The Ags didn't break the 20-point barrier till 14:08 to play in the game, the momentous occasion drawing sarcastic cheers from the Longhorn faithful. When A&M scored again on its next possession, the four straight points represented the Ags' biggest run of the night. Yep, it was that bad a night for the boys in maroon.
Acie Law led A&M in scoring with nine. Next in line was big man Joseph Jones, who fouled out with just under 10 to play with just six points.
Brad Buckman's 18 points led four in double figures for the Burnt Orange. Buckman also recorded his fourth consecutive double-double, ripping down 13 boards.
"He was terrific," Barnes said. "Buck's done the one thing we've asked of him since he's been here, and that's consistency... He is being aggressive offensively, getting on the glass, that's what he does. We need him doing that the rest of the way."
Kenny Taylor came off the bench for 15 points, knocking down six-of-12 from the field, including both three-point attempts. Sydmill Harris totaled 14 on five-of-seven shooting (three-of-five from the arc) and Daniel Gibson added 13.
The Horns almost doubled up the Ags on the scoreboard, but pulled the trick on the backboards, collecting 44 rebounds to just 22 for the visitors. Texas turned the ball over just nine times, one off the season low set in the Nebraska win in Lincoln last month.
"Offensively, I thought we moved the ball well," the Texas head coach said. "I look at one stat first, turnovers, and we did a great job taking care of the basketball."
Although the win doesn't guarantee the Horns anything in terms of a tournament berth, it moves the team's record just three wins from the 20-win plateau and those same three 'Ws' from a plus-.500 conference record, marks that will almost ensure an invite. The Ags? Well, what's another year on the outside looking in.
UT travels to Baylor this Saturday for a 8 p.m. tip vs. the Bears.