This has been a year of astounding performances by freshman phenom Kevin Durant. But on Saturday afternoon at the Erwin Center, freshman point guard D.J. Augustin stole the show. In fact, Texas head coach Rick Barnes says it goes beyond any game by a Texas player this season, including Durant.
"I thought it was the best performance any player has had on our team all year because of what he did on both ends of the floor," said Barnes. "Also as a leader. He led today like I've never seen before."
Augustin said he's been working to improve his leadership each day.
"Coach has been talking to me about being a better leader and I tried to do that tonight," said Augustin.
Durant echoed Barnes sentiments about Augustin's leadership, especially down the stretch as Iowa State was fighting to get back into the game.
"He would yell at us and tell us to play defense when he needed to," said Durant. "It all comes from the point guard. Without him, we wouldn't be the team we are. If he keeps doing that and everybody on the team keeps it up, we're going to be great."
Augustin led Texas in scoring from the get go. The freshman point guard had 7 of Texas' first 13 points, as the Longhorns exploded to a 21-5 lead to start the game. At that point, the Cyclones had as many fouls (5) as they had points. Texas' 21st point came on a Durant free throw after he sank a sideways shot while getting fouled. Durant, typically the Longhorns' leader in the points department, had 17 in the game, but showed significant improvement to his defense, grabbing five steals in the game.
"I have a new-found respect for what he can do defensively," said Iowa State head coach Greg McDermott.
Augustin said Durant also did a good job of finding his teammates when the Cyclones collapsed down defensively.
"Kevin had about three guys on him in the post and he did a good job of kicking it out," said Augustin.
Texas' second leading scorer on the season, A.J. Abrams had another rough afternoon shooting the basketball. Abrams shot a dismal 1-of-10 from the floor and finished with 5 points. The sophomore guard had a hand in his face most of the game and McDermott said his team focused on taking Abrams and Durant out of the game.
"I thought our guys executed to make Abrams' looks tough and Durant's looks tough," said McDermott.
Abrams said his struggles are as much mental as they are anything else and doesn't expect it to continue.
"I'm fighting to get open and when I do, I'm like, 'Oh yes, I'm open,'" said Abrams. "Of couse, I hit the one open one I got."
Texas' most accurate shooter was, uncharacteristically, Damion James. The freshman forward, who had been shooting only 45% on the season, hit all five of his shots, most of them outside jumpers. James had 10 points and 5 boards in the game.
"Damion's getting a lot of confidence," said Augustin. "He's getting his confidence back and he's playing tremendous."
Texas took a 42-23 lead into halftime and had the game well in hand at that point. But Barnes said that's when his team started to coast.
"We were definitely the aggressors on offense in the first half and then we started to settle," said Barnes. "It's hard. Not a lot of energy in the building either."
With eight minutes to go in the game, Iowa State narrowed it to a 12-point lead, 61-49, on a three-pointer by Mike Taylor, then down to 10 on a lay-up by Wesley Johnson...and then down to eight as Johnson flew by the Texas defense for an uncontested dunk. Barnes called a timeout to talk to his team, but already Durant knew that the key was on the defensive end.
"We took a couple steps back, but then we got the key stops," said Durant, "and D.J. played tremendous."
Out of the timeout, Augustin hit a three to give Texas an 11-point lead and give himself a new career-high in points, passing his previous mark of 25 against both LSU and Villanova. The game battled back and forth, but Texas was able to maintain its advantage and time was quickly becoming a factor for the Cyclones.
Texas led 71-64 as the clock grinded past two minutes and it was time for Iowa State to start fouling. The Horns would have to make their free throws to take the win. Texas hit all six.
Iowa State had a ray of hope when Cyclone forward Rahshon Clark stole the ball off the inbounds pass, but Cook was swatted by Durant and the chants of "One more year!" began to cascade from the fans at the Erwin Center. Texas locked down on defense and held on for the 77-68 win.
The Cyclones were led in the scoring department by Taylor, who finished with 25 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists, but also had 7 turnovers.
The win was Barnes' 208th at Texas, tieing him with Tom Penders (1989-98) for the UT record. Barnes and the Texas coaching staff, as well as their Iowa State counterparts, were all wearing sneakers during the game to raise awareness about Coaches vs. Cancer, which supports cancer awareness and research.
The Longhorns remain at home for their next game, a Monday night match-up against Oklahoma State. Texas (17-7, 7-3) lost to OSU (18-5, 4-4 heading into Saturday's game with Texas Tech) earlier this season 105-103 in a triple-overtime game in Stillwater, Okla. The Texas players have watched the game several times now, both in film study and in the myriad of times it's been on ESPN Classic, including when Texas was stuck in the airport in Dallas, attempting to return home from Stillwater.
"As a matter of fact, we were in the airport and we saw it the next day," said Durant, "but we need to focus on Monday night and get the win."
Tip is set for 8:00 p.m. at the Erwin Center.