Hoops: Top Five Horns Open With A 'W'

The Horns apparently like the rarified air near the top of the national polls. They earned the right to stay there, at least for the time being, after overcoming a 10-point second half Georgia lead and holding off a late Bulldog run for a 77-71 win in Madison Square Garden.

T.J. Ford wooed the New York City crowd with his slick off-the-dribble moves, defensive tenacity (including a scary first-half somersault that sent the Texas sophomore crashing to the floor and then to the bench to shake off the crash landing), sensational passing and -- new this year -- smooth shooting. Ford broke down the Bulldog defense several times, creating scoring opportunities for his teammates while totaling eight assists, but the number that jumps off the stat sheet is 22. As in 22 points, tying a career high, for the UT point guard.

"The star of the game was T.J. Ford," Rick Barnes said. "They had no answer for him."

Ford, though, had an answer for Georgia. After the Horns fell behind 46-36 near the 17-minute mark of the second half, he sparked the Texas comeback with a baseline drive and lay-up that began a 15-2 Longhorn run. The run's bookend bucket, which put UT on top 51-48, came after a T.J. steal, which true freshman Brad Buckman scooped and sent to Ford for the breakaway drive. Ford also had two assists during those decisive few minutes.

The Horns extended their lead to 10 at 68-58 with seven minutes to play, but the Bulldogs battled back to within two at 73-71 with 21 ticks left on the Garden clock. Junior Brandon Mouton, though, knocked down two free throws and James Thomas ripped down a Georgia miss with under 10 seconds to play to seal the season-opening deal.

Georgia played without two of its best big men. Center Chris Daniels missed the game while serving a one-game suspension for participating in an uncertified basketball event and forward Steve Thomas is academically ineligible for the fall semester. The lack of depth (essentially a six-man rotation to UT's eight-plus) looked to catch up with the Bulldogs in the second half after a strong performance over the opening 20-plus minutes.

Georgia owned a 40-36 lead at the break, partially due to some sloppy ball handling by the Horns over the final seven minutes of the first half. After taking a 27-23 lead, Texas turned the ball over five times in six possessions, allowing the Bulldogs to open up a lead they wouldn't relinquish until UT's second half, T.J.-induced streak.

Along with Ford's 22-point explosion (on 10-of-19 shooting), Mouton contributed 13 (11 in the second half) while Deginald Erskin showed nice touch around the basket for 12 points (10 in the second half). Buckman played 17 minutes in his collegiate debut, totaling six points and six rebounds (second only to Thomas' eight boards). Brian Boddicker added nine points. Ezra Williams led Georgia with 20 points.

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