Along with the trio of experienced Longhorns that often make big plays over the course of a game, sophomore point guard Dogus Balbay may have been the difference down the stretch.
For 33 minutes Tuesday night, Wisconsin (9-3) point guard Trevon Hughes gave the Longhorns fits. Hughes scored 18 points in the opening 33+ minutes and appeared to be headed for a 25-point night while also running the Badgers team. Appeared, being the key word as Texas reserve guard Dogus Balbay shut out Hughes in the final 6:47 of the game with a combination of denial and quality on the ball defense as well as receiving help from James with a key block after a switch in the closing seconds.
With the Longhorns (10-2) clinging to a 70-69 lead, James grabbed a key offensive rebound off of an Abrams miss to keep the possession alive. After dribbling the ball out to the wing, the junior passed the ball to Justin Mason who set up Gary Johnson. Johnson took a hard dribble and rose up for long two-point jumper with a foot on the three-point line. Johnson knocked down the jumper off the glass to put the Longhorns up 72-69 with 23.5 seconds to play.
On the other end, James came up with a huge block on a driving Hughes. After securing the block and loose ball, James calmly tossed a pass to Abrams with nine seconds to play. Abrams was then fouled and sent to the line with six second remaining and a chance to end any hopes of a Wisconsin upset.
Last year, Abrams missed a key free throw with 11 seconds remaining against Wisconsin which gave the Badgers the opportunity to hit a game winning three-pointer. Fast forward 360 days and Abrams hit the front end of the one and one to give the Longhorns a four point lead before knocking down the second for good measure to put the game away.
The Longhorns led 39-37 at the half behind the play of Abrams and James.
Abrams, who was smothered by Travis Walton of Michigan State on Saturday, found Tuesday night much easier as he ran off of screen after screen putting pressure on the Badgers defense. Abrams tossed in 12 first half points, making three tough shots in key situations late in the shot clock.
James added 10 points and six rebounds in the first half as the Longhorns overcame 11 turnovers, with the majority unforced.
The Badgers kept the game close hitting six of 12 first half three-pointers as the Longhorns dominated on the glass and cut of post scoring angles.
Hughes led the Badgers scoring 18 points. He received scoring help from Jason Bohannon with 16.
Abrams scored 21 to lead Texas. James finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds, while Gary Johnson added 16 points and eight rebounds.
A Look at the Numbers
The Longhorns shot 45.2% (28-62) overall, 18.8% (3-16) from three and 93.8% (15-16) from the free throw line.
Wisconsin converted 41.8% (23-55) from the floor, 47.4% (9-19) from the three-point line and 66.7% (14-21) from the foul line.
Texas won the battle of the boards in convincing fashion 38-22, including 15 offensive caroms.
The Longhorns turned the ball over 13 times to only nine by the Badgers.
Dogus Balbay gets a game ball for his play in the final nine minutes of the game. He grabbed loose ball rebounds, made a key steal, scored a key basket and most importantly, played ball denial on Trevon Hughes holding him scoreless for the last 6:47 of the contest. The Badgers scored just five points in the last 6:47 of the game.
Damion James played easily his best game of the season. He played within himself on the offensive end much better than in previous games and attacked the offensive glass. James scored four points, grabbed seven rebounds and made the key block of the game in the final five and half minutes.
Texas did a good job of taking away the Badgers post-up game as far as the big men are concerned. Texas closed out the final few minutes in a three guard line-up as Atchley and Pittman were saddled with four fouls apiece. That, in turn, put a quicker and more reactive defensive team on the floor and made scoring much tougher for the Badgers other than when they got a size mismatch on the blocks with a wing against Varez Ward or Mason.
Texas made the key free throws down the stretch and for the entire game. The Longhorns were 6-6 from the line in the second half.
The Longhorns limited the clean catch and shoot three point attempts in the second half. The three ball kept Wisconsin in the game in the first half hitting six of them. Texas limited the Badgers to three makes in the second half and only seven attempts, more importantly.
Justin Mason got aggressive with the ball in the second half and made a number of big plays along the baseline with scores and assists.
Justin Mason struggled defensively in man-to-man for the first time this season. Trevon Hughes used a nifty hesitation and left shoulder fake driving left and Mason got jumpy on defense instead of continuing to slide the feet. That put Mason in an impossible position to recover. Mason was also late reacting to Hughes rising up for a jumper in the early going and that played a part in Mason getting jumpy as Hughes began to mix in the hesitation.
The Badgers had the ability to pull Pittman away from the basket and worked him over pretty well. Those are next to impossible matchups for Pittman to succeed. He will consistently give up more than he scores in those matchups and also has trouble staying out of foul trouble.
The Longhorns committed 11 first half turnovers with eight or nine unforced. Wisconsin plays solid half court defense, but the defense didn't cause the turnovers Tuesday night. Bobbled passes, passes with poor timing and careless play were the root cause.
This was a huge win for Texas. The Longhorns are now 10-2 with games remaining in the non-conference against Appalachian State and at Arkansas. While the Arkansas game is on the road, the Longhorns are a much better team than the youthful Razorbacks. If Texas takes care of business, as they should, a 12-2 non-conference mark is in their sights with resume wins over UCLA, Villanova (N) and at Wisconsin.