On Tuesday night, clutch play off the bench from Dogus Balbay and Varez Ward combined with 15-19 free throw shooting the last nine minutes and a big 18-footer off the dribble by A.J. Abrams were the difference.
In a game that was tied 13 times, three key plays around the four minute mark proved to be the difference in the Longhorns seizing control. Gary Johnson scored to put Texas (15-4, 4-1) up 64-62 with 4:20 remaining. The driving shot was goal tended by Baylor forward Kevin Rogers.
Dogus Balbay scored a basket on a blow by off the dribble the next possession for a 66-62 lead. After the Balbay score, Baylor guard Curtis Jerrells stumbled five feet behind the top of the key getting into a dribble drive move, fell on the ground and lost control of the ball. Justin Mason picked up the loose ball around midcourt and coasted in for a layup that put Texas in command 68-62 with 3:31 to play.
After Baylor (15-5, 3-3) closed the gap to within two at 70-68 and again at 72-70, Abrams stepped up for Texas. With one minute remaining, Abrams dribbled left off of a ball screen and quickly pulled up from 18 feet. The result was nothing but net and a 74-70 lead.
Abrams followed with what appeared to be a costly foul on Baylor's Tweety Carter behind the three point line, but the junior missed all three.
Texas then closed out the game from the free throw line. Connor Atchley sank two key foul shots to put Texas up 77-72 with 22 seconds remaining.
Curtis Jerrells led the Bears with 14 points on 6-18 shooting. The senior was joined in double figures by Kevin Rogers, 13, LaceDarius Dunn, 12, and Quincy Acy with 11.
Abrams led Texas with 19 points, while James added 14 points and 12 rebounds.
A Look at the Numbers
The Longhorns shot 44.4% (28-63) overall, 21.4% (3-14) from three and 70.4% (19-27) from the free throw line.
The Bears converted 37.5% (20-44) from the floor, 30.0% (6-20) from the three-point line and 66.7% (18-27) from the foul line.
The Longhorns played even on the boards 42-42.
The Longhorns won the turnover battle 13 to 10.
The Longhorns took the best shot of a Baylor team with a fired up crowd and community behind them. The Longhorns, most impressively, did so with Gary Johnson on the bench virtually the entire first half and playing only 13 minutes total. It becomes a huge road win considering Johnson has been the Longhorns most steady player and consistent offensive threat in the last seven or eight games.
Dogus Balbay does all of the little things and is gaining more confidence offensively every time he steps on the court. Balbay is the best on the ball defnder and was very good last night. He closes out under control, is a traffic rebounding guard and there aren't many of those as well as the best shot-creator on this team. His energy is beginning to rub off on some of his teammates.
Damion James played big time basketball in the last 25 or so minutes of the game. The three wasn't falling, but James was active, relentless and attacked. He is going to catch and shoot, as that is what he does best, but he has shown improved ability to get to better scoring spots under better control off the bounce in the last couple of games.
Texas did a very good job of staying connected to LaceDarius Dunn, which isn't an easy task. Only a couple of times did a Texas defender make a bad decision rotating off of Dunn and they didn't pay as the ball never got to him. It was a team effort as Abrams and Mason both spent time on Dunn.
The Longhorns did a good job limiting Jerrells off the bounce. Balbay was very good defensively and Mason had his moments. Jerrells didn't get to the free throw line once or get to the paint many times at all. For a player to not get to the foul line that had attempted 133 free throws in the 19 games prior says a lot about how well he was defended.
Varez Ward is showing signs of improvement and was very physical on defense last night. He was up into every Baylor player he guarded and frustrated Baylor guards. He is playing the physical style Coach Barnes desires. The six free throws made were huge in the outcome of the game as it was during a time that Baylor was surging. Each trip to the line kept Texas in the lead.
There are not going to be many complaints after a road win against a quality opponent.
Connor Atchley received as many good looks in the first half of the game Tuesday as he has had in a while and just couldn't knock them down. Still not 100%, he struggled defensively as well. He does so many little things that are key in winning basketball games that it is sometimes hard to remember that when other plays are magnified. With that being said, this is not a game he will look at as a positive overall individually other than the four key free throws in the closing minutes.
Texas wanted to defend the three point line and take away Baylor's ability to get rolling and the crowd to be a difference maker. They accomplished that, but did give up too many easy baskets on offensive rebounds and some slip situations in the second half. Give Baylor credit too as they have the best offensive firepower of any team in the Big 12. You are going to give up something against Baylor if Dunn is a non-factor and Jerrells is defended well.
Pittman wasn't good defensively. One just can't allow Josh Lomers a catch in the middle of the paint, dunk and foul for a three-point play. That was the worst single play from Texas the entire night.
A.J. Abrams had two careless turnovers early in the second half that began Baylor's only true run of the game. They were turnovers away from the basket that led to run outs for the Bears.
Tuesday night was a huge road win for Texas against a Baylor team and crowd that wanted to stop the streak. The Longhorns are 4-1 with a five game stretch coming up that should be 5-0 or 4-1 over the next two or three weeks. Two road wins in the first five Big 12 games has Texas perfectly positioned to put together another 12-win conference campaign. With the next two road games being Nebraska and Colorado, putting three or four road victories in the books in the first nine games of Big 12 play is looking really good.