Texas dunks Appalachian State 78-43

The #8 Texas Longhorns put an emphasis on the interior game in practices leading up to Friday night's contest against Appalachian State and the results were a resounding thumping on the glass and in the paint to the tune of 78-43.

The #8 Texas Longhorns thumped the Appalachian State Mountaineers 78-43 on Friday night in Austin behind a career night from junior center Dexter Pittman, who scored 21 points and battled for 11 rebounds. Pittman, who at one point scored 13 straight Texas points, had his way in the paint all night as well as showing his touch with a pair of nifty turn around jumpers.

Pittman's scoring spurt began in the closing minutes of the first half scoring the last seven points of the half helping give the Longhorns a 32-23 lead after several minutes of sluggish play. Pittman added the first six points of the second half spurring a 19-2 run in which the Longhorns took control of the game 44-23.

Pittman didn't work alone on Friday night, however. Sixth man Gary Johnson continued his torrid pace of late scoring 16 points to go with nine rebounds and five blocked shots, a career-high. Johnson provided an early offensive and defensive spark after a slow start by the Longhorns (11-2).

Texas, who dominated on the glass, also received a closing spurt of points and rebounds from Damion James. The junior finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds for a third straight double double.

On the defensive end, the Longhorns stymied the Mountaineers (5-5) to end the first half and the entire second half with crisp rotations that took away any thoughts of dribble penetration, a number of blocked and changed shots as well as active hands in the passing lanes and on the ball.

Texas held Appalachian State to just 30.2% from the field and just seven field goals and 20 second half points.

In the opening half, the bench was the key for the top ten ranked Big 12 team as starters Connor Atchley and Damion James sat with two fouls apiece. Along with the play of Johnson off the bench, point guard Dogus Balbay again provided key minutes and a spark with a number of hustle plays and a pair of assists for easy baskets.

Kellen Brand led Appalachian State with 12 points. The only other Mountaineer with seven points or more was point guard Ryann Abraham, who struggled to a 3-10 night after a hot start.

Pittman led the Longhorns with 21 points. Johnson added 16 and James 14.

A Look at the Numbers

The Longhorns shot 44.4% (28-63) overall, 26.7% (4-15) from three and 62.1% (18-29) from the free throw line.

The Mountaineers converted 30.2% (16-53) from the floor, 16.7% (3-18) from the three-point line and 47.1% (8-17) from the foul line.

Texas won the battle of the boards in convincing fashion 46-35, including 18 offensive caroms.

The Longhorns won the turnover battle as well 17 to nine.

The Good

The Longhorns pounded the ball inside with success against a team that shouldn't be able to handle the size and length of Texas. In the past this season, that hasn't always been the case. The Longhorns did a very good job of creating terrific angles on the wing to get the ball to Pittman. Connor Atchley, Varez Ward, Dogus Balbay and Justin Mason all made quality post entry passes against man and 3-2-zone defense.

Gary Johnson continues to play big time offensive basketball for the Longhorns. He is knocking down the mid-range jumper, posting on the left block and working to get to his right handed jump hook and taking big men off the dribble for easy scores or free throw opportunities. Right now, Johnson is playing as close to an all-around offensive game as he has the ability to. Throw in an improved stroke at the free throw line and the sophomore has emerged as one of the top sixth men in the country.

Damion James is playing to his strengths much better than earlier in the season. A third straight double double is one sign as the junior is playing closer to the basket to use his offensive rebounding ability on the weak side. With that said, James is taking smart shots in the flow of the offense and not forcing off the bounce out of the flow. After missing his first free throw, he hit his final six and that is a great sign.

After a 1-7 start from the foul line, the Longhorns hit 17 of their final 22. The half time lead of nine should have been more, but the 1-7 start and two missed front ends were costly.

Texas was crisp in their defensive rotations the final 20 minutes causing indecision on nearly every catch by a Mountaineer. The close outs were under control and the dribble penetration was very limited.

Texas showed some patience against the 3-2 zone look and worked to get the ball to the post or to the middle. Gary Johnson's play at the high post against the zone can't be talked about enough. He is a tough matchup against a 2-3 or 3-2 zone as he can knockdown the mid-range from the elbow, put the ball on the floor and then go chase the weak side offensive rebound. Johnson is very active against the zone.

It was great to see Matt Hill have success tonight after the long rehab and work to get back on the court. Hill was active on both ends in his 12 minutes on the court and scored five points.

The Bad

There is mot much to speak to as well as Texas played after the long layoff. A.J. Abrams forced shots when Texas was having their way inside. Too many quick shots from the senior in a game in which patience ended with easy looks for the Texas big men as well as free throw attempts and second chance scoring opportunities.

Varez Ward has to play under control more off the dribble. On plays in which he doesn't put the ball on the floor and force, he was tremendous tonight. With the ball and multiple dribbles in the open floor and half court, he's committing too many unforced turnovers.

Dogus Balbay was solid again tonight, but has to finish. He isn't converting with some high percentage chances and then is compounding the issue at the free throw line. In 24 minutes, Balbay dished out three assists (zero TO's), recorded two steals, grabbed two rebounds and blocked a shot as well as making a handful of hustle plays to keep the ball alive, but went 0-2 from the floor and 0-4 from the free throw line. When he gets to the point of adding four point per game, which will be key in Big 12 play playing 15-20-minutes, Balbay will give Texas exactly what they need from him.

Overall

This was a quality win after the nine-day break. Sound defensive effort the final 24-minutes and the best job all season of spacing, post entry passing and patience getting the ball inside.

Up next on January 6 is Arkansas on the road to close out non-conference play. The youthful Razorbacks handed the Oklahoma Sooners their lone loss on the season and will host Texas with newfound confidence.

A Texas win would give the Horns a 12-2 mark and squarely in position to earn a two or three seed in the NCAA Tournament with another top two finish in Big 12 play.


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