Hoops: Ugly But Effective

The last week has not been a good one if you're a Texas basketball player.

Your coach, Rick Barnes, is not the biggest fan of losing, and that's made him probably a bit grumpy during a two-game losing streak to Oklahoma State and Villanova. Toss in the travel irritations -- airplane terminals, little hotel room beds and loud-mouthed opposing fans, and you've got the makings of a truly miserable stretch of hoops.

Needless to say, the Longhorns entered Wednesday night’s game in Lincoln a little perturbed. And when the game was over, the Longhorns were still likely a tad miffed, but very much relieved, leaving Nebraska with a razor-thin 62-61 victory.

Texas survived the Huskers only because Jamel White missed a short runner over UT’s Justin Mason with just under two seconds remaining. The shot bounced off the rim and fell to J.D. Lewis, who was fouled with a second remaining. Lewis missed the one-and-one free throw, but Nebraska couldn’t grab the loose ball, and Texas’ own version of Hell Week was over.

Barnes, for one, was happy to be coming home.

"I told the team it wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it, especially after losing the last two," said Barnes, whose team moved to 14-5 overall and 4-1 in Big 12 play, tied for the league lead with Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Kansas. "I thought we showed some toughness, especially on defense. When we had to get some stops, we got them."

Freshman Kevin Durant will once again be the shiniest player in the boxscore, leading all scorers with 26 points and 15 rebounds. But for Texas, perhaps the biggest numbers from Wednesday’s game were those produced by fellow freshman Dexter Pittman: 12 minutes played, seven points scored and four rebounds collected.

For Pittman, who has lost approximately 100 pounds since last summer, the game will hopefully be a jump-start to what could be a memorable career at Texas. In addition to scoring key points — his two straight buckets midway in the first half tied the game at 26 — Pittman was instrumental in slowing Nebraska’s talented big man, Aleks Meric.

Meric entered the game scoring 18 points per contest; he finished his battle with Pittman with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

"I was shocked I played 12 minutes," admitted Pittman, who is working not only to control his weight that is currently in the 280-290 range but also to improve his stamina. "I knew I just had to try and hold the big fella the best I could. I wanted to prove I could play against a guy who is big like me and physical like me. The coaches told me all of this work would pay off someday, and it’s paying off every day now."

The hot-starting Huskers hit six of their first eight three-pointers, but Durant’s 13 first-half points gave Texas a 31-28 halftime advantage. Midway into the second half, a Craig Winder three-pointer gave the Longhorns their largest lead of the night with 10:30 remaining, a 51-43 lead.

The Cornhuskers hung around, though, and Ryan Anderson’s three-pointer with 4:20 gave Nebraska a 57-56 lead. A.J. Abrams, who finished the game with 14 points, answered with a three-pointer of his own with 3:48 remaining. Mason’s clutch three-pointer with 2:03 left inched the Texas lead to 62-59.

Anderson’s layup with 1:45 accounted for the final margin. Marcus Perry — who had five three-pointers in the game and led Nebraska with 17 points — missed a chance to give Doc Sadler’s team the lead with 43 seconds left.

D.J. Augustin, who was 0-10 from the field in the game for Texas yet had 10 assists, missed a runner in the lane to set up White’s last-gasp Nebraska effort. The Huskers are now 12-6 overall and 1-3 in conference play.

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