Closing Heroics Send Texas to Big 12 Final

OKLAHOMA CITY - After scoring only four points in the second half of play, Kevin Durant nailed a three with less than a minute to go to give Texas the edge they needed to beat Oklahoma State in the semi-finals of Big 12 Tournament, 69-64.

In a bit of basketball symmetry, the game to decide the Big 12 Tournament Champion will be between the two teams that played to determine the Big 12 Regular Season Title: Texas and Kansas.

‘Symmetrical' could also be used to describe Kevin Durant's attack against Oklahoma State in the Longhorns 69-64 semi-final win: Strong at the beginning and the end.

In the beginning, Texas' attack was all Durant. Literally. All of the Longhorns' first 13 points were scored by the freshman sensation, the 13th point accenting the run as the long and athletic Durant threw down a dunk, bringing the vastly out-numbered Texas fans in Oklahoma City to their feet.

Durant cooled off later in the half, closing out with six more to take his first half total to an impressive 19. Unfortunately for the Horns, Durant stayed cold throughout the second half, only putting up four more points. That is, until 47 seconds to go.

In the closing minutes of the game, the Cowboys went on a blistering 11-2 run to catch Texas and tie the game up at 61, capping off the run with a difficult jumper from the corner by guard JamesOn Curry.

On Texas' next possession, D.J. Augustin, who was Texas' top scorer in the second half with 13, missed on his jump shot, but forward Damion James tipped the ball out to a wide open Durant at the top of the key. Durant, ice water in his veins, nailed the long shot to give the Longhorns a three-point lead. Durant had remained quiet for most of the second half, but said his teammates lifted his confidence.

"I was kind of down, I wasn't hitting no shots," said Durant. "My teammates were like, ‘It is time for a big-time shot.' Once I got the ball, I just wanted to shoot and I made it."

Texas head coach Rick Barnes, impressed with his team's ability to close out another close game, said that Durant's shot was great, but that we shouldn't forget the player who made it possible.

"That's what great players do. He did it the way its supposed to be done, but the play really was Damion (James) keeping the ball alive. That was the play of the game," said Barnes.

Texas had been crushed on the boards all game, losing the rebounding battle 44-33, but James' tip helped keep the Horns going in the Big 12 Tournament. Texas also hit five of its six free throws to close out the game and seal the victory.

The win may not have been possible without a big play from an unexpected player. Of course, that's what we said last game about Craig Winder, and the senior stepped up again for his team. He had a big three for Texas late in the ball game and had a huge steal immediately following Durant's big shot to help seal the victory. Winder also had five rebounds, three of them offensive, and three assists for the Longhorns.

The other big point-scorer for Texas was A.J. Abrams. The sophomore guard connected on four of his nine three-point attempts, finished with 20 points and also hit four of Texas' final five free throws. Abrams said he took advantage of opponents focusing on Durant.

"At this time of year you have to concentrate on him (Durant) a little bit more because he does so much for your team," said Abrams. "At the same time, Coach (Barnes) did a good job of letting me run off screens and get open looks."

However, Abrams struggled on the offensive end in the second half as well, getting only 7 of his 20 in the final frame. With Durant and Abrams, who had accounted for all of the Longhorns' first 29 points of the game, down in the second half, who kept the Horns afloat?

"I never lost my confidence. That's the one thing I learned, to keep playing hard," said Augustin, who had all but two of his 15 points in the second half. The true freshman point guard also had six assists, three steals and no turnovers in the win.

Texas moves to 24-8 with the victory and may have even pushed themselves up into a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Cowboys drop to 22-12 and await their fate on Selection Sunday, but could be NIT-bound.

The Longhorns now face the Kansas Jayhawks in Sunday's Big 12 Championship. Texas lost to Kansas 90-86 in their one meeting this season on March 3rd in Lawrence, Kan. Sunday's game tips off at 2:00 p.m. at the Ford Center here in Oklahoma City.

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