Horns Escape Princeton

Whew! Chalk that &#145;W&#146; up! <P>Despite trailing by three at halftime, Texas survived a fearless effort by a scrappy Princeton squad and scratched out a 57-54 victory before 10,671 noisy fans at the Erwin Center Sunday. </P>

They had to overcome a frigid first-half shooting effort to do it.

It’s definitely the season for Frosty the Snowman, but nobody knew he was gonna don a Longhorn jersey and start clankin’ shots on national television.

The Horns started the game with a display of icy shooting that would’ve made the Snowman proud, hitting one of their first 12 shots before Brandon Mouton muscled in a tip at the 9:01 mark to cut Princeton’s lead to 8-7. Prior to that, Texas had managed one, lone three-pointer from Mouton and a couple of free throws from Brad Buckman.

UT hit only 6 of 26 shots from the field in the first half, including 3 of 11 treys, and found itself behind 21-18 at the intermission. Twenty-three percent from the floor ain’t generally gonna cut it.

But with this Texas team, you can just about bank on the fact that if they are struggling offensively, they are dishing out the same medicine to their opponent, and Sunday was no exception. "Coach told us not to worry, the shots would start falling," said Chris Ogden. "He said just keep playing defense, which we did."

"It was tough," said Mouton post-game when asked how it felt to look up at the 10-minute mark and see only three points for the Horns, "but we knew it would be that kind of game. Two great ballclubs doing what we do well, playing defense."

According to Rick Barnes, the Tigers clogged the middle of the lane to take away T.J. Ford’s penetration and force the outside shot, which Texas failed to convert. They also scurried back on D after their own missed shots. "You look at Princeton’s offensive boards — only seven for the game — and that tells you that as soon as the shot was taken, they went straight back to defend and keep us from running."

Happily, the Horns, and Mouton in particular, lit the offensive heaters in the second half. Texas managed to knock down 50 percent from the floor after intermission, giving itself enough offense to turn back a Tiger team that seemed anything but awed by facing the No. 10 team in the nation on its home floor.

Give some credit to Princeton — these guys are Ivy Leaguers but gave a Big East effort against Texas. Never mind that they had beaten the Horns the last two times the teams had played — in 1997 and ’98. "I’ve watched them enough to know they were capable of this," said Barnes.

Mouton kept Texas in it all night, scoring a game-high 21 points on 7 of 14 shooting. He had help, particularly late, and it came from an unlikely source. Ogden came in midway through the second half and steadied the team. His trey at the 3:58 mark broke a 48-all deadlock and gave Texas a lead it would not relinquish.

"The great thing about having depth is you can go down the bench and find guys who are ready to play, and Chris was ready tonight," said Barnes. "If you took a poll of the team and asked them who had the highest basketball IQ on the squad, no question it would be Ogden. He played a long time, handled the fatigue and did an even better job on the defensive end."

But it was Ford who sealed the deal for Texas. With the game on the line with less than 25 seconds to play, Ford calmly sank four straight free throws to keep Princeton at bay. "We shut him down in the first half but he kept coming," said Tiger guard Ed Persia of Beaumont about Ford. "He made the big shots at the end — that’s what great players do."

The Horns, now 7-2, will break for Christmas before tipping it off again Dec. 30 against Louisiana Tech at 7 p.m. in the Erwin Center.

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