Texas Powers Through Nicholls State

The Texas Longhorns once again struggled to find their shot early, but came back to blow out the Nicholls State Colonels, 91-60.

It was supposed to be an easy win. Nicholls State, the Longhorns' Southland Conference foe on Tuesday night, was 0-5 coming into the game and only had eight players on their roster, the tallest of which was 6-7 center Mitch Boyce, who was liberally listed at 6-10. They were supposed to be a patsy opponent for Texas to beat up on at home while they prepare for a grueling non-conference schedule that includes games against Gonzaga, LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee.

Nicholls State didn't get the memo.

Texas never trailed, but came close to on multiple occasions in the early going. About halfway through the first half, Texas barely held on to a 18-16 lead as Nicholls State began the game with a barrage of three-pointers.

Then A.J. Abrams took charge of the scoring to create the first real separation for the Horns. The sophomore guard had a dominant first half for Texas, scoring 20 points in the first period and hitting 6 of 9 shots from behind the three-point line. He was especially effective from the corner, making big shot after big shot.

Abrams talked after Texas' first exhibition game this season about how he hated shooting from the corner, it's just that it's where he found himself most often.

"That's my job on this team, get to the corner. I guess I can learn to like it," said Abrams. "You can learn to like anything if it gets you open shots."

D.J. Augustin took a pass from Durant, dribbled to the baseline and found Abrams waiting in the far corner, who drained the three with exactly five minutes remaining in the first half, taking the score to 33-21 in favor of the Horns and forcing a timeout from Nicholls State.

Augustin only had three points Tuesday night, but made himself felt the way he's going to be making the biggest impact this season: as the ball distributor. Augustin had eight assists in the game.

Late in the first half, Dexter Pittman got his first points on the night on consecutive trips down the floor. The Texas center has continued to go through his own workouts every day, including game day (in fact, twice on Tuesday before the game) to get his weight down and become more effective in the Horns' running offense. Because of this, Pittman only played 12 minutes, but was effective in his time on the floor, scoring eight points and grabbing six boards. According the UT, Pittman is down to 303 pounds, 85 less than he weighed in the spring at Rosenberg Terry High School.

The score was 46-31 at halftime. It was a solid lead and the game was well in hand, but there were obviously a great deal of mistakes on the part of the Longhorns in the first half of play.

"We didn't run as hard as I thought we needed to in the first half," said Texas head coach Rick Barnes. "We did want to work on getting inside a bit more."

The Longhorns did a much better job of getting the ball to their big men and overpowering the smaller Colonels in the second half. Kevin Durant, who had struggled in the first half due to errant shots, began the second half with a much more precise shot, putting in a short jumper over his much smaller opponents from about five feet out. A driving lay-up across the front of the rim took Durant's total to 12 and the freshman forward finally began to assert himself offensively. 13 of Durant's 21 points came in the final frame. Durant also had 12 rebounds to put up another double-double.

A Connor Atchley three-pointer with 13:35 left in the game took it to 61-35 Texas lead and the route was on at last.

On offense, Abrams stepped aside in the second half and let his teammates finish off the Colonels, totaling 23 points on the night, 20 of them coming in the first half.

The Longhorns frequently switched to the 2-3 zone, as is often the case with Barnes-coached teams, to give their running attack a chance to rest and regroup, as well as give the young team experience employing the defensive scheme.

"I thought coach Barnes did a great job in the second half of trapping us and forcing us to make mistakes," said Nicholls State head coach J.P. Piper.

The size difference in the two teams showed up in the rebounding numbers, as Texas out-rebounded Nicholls State 56-25 on the night. The Longhorns extended their record to 4-1 on the year.

In the end, it was a blowout win. Texas' early struggles and eventual domination are indications of both the incredible talent and undeniable youth on this team. The Longhorns hosts Texas Southern next Tuesday (11/28) at 7 p.m., before meeting Gonzaga in Phoenix, Ariz. on December 2nd.

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