The Longhorns (19-8, 8-5) scored the first four points of the game, but the play was sloppy featuring three unforced turnovers. Even with the flat play, Texas built leads of four, five, and as many as seven in the opening nine minutes before hitting a cold streak that opened the door for Texas Tech (12-16, 2-11).
The Longhorns led 28-24 with 8:12 to play after a Dogus Balbay free throw, but the Longhorns would not score a field goal for the next five minutes while Texas Tech scored at will.
The Red Raiders went on a 17-4 run and eventually took a 41-32 lead with 2:50 to play in the half before the Longhorns closed strong to trail only 43-38 at the break.
During the intermission, Kevin Durant's #35 was retired bringing tears to the eyes of the NBA star in the making. Durant, who genuinely loves the University of Texas despite spending only one year in Austin, spoke of his love for Texas and Austin.
(AP Photo/Erich Schlegel)
The Longhorns turned up the defensive pressure in the opening minutes of the second half with full court pressure. Behind the play of Balbay and James, the Longhorns raced out to a 55-50 lead with 13:40 to play.
Just when it looked like Texas would keep running and take control of the game, a bad third foul by Balbay slowed the momentum.
The Longhorns closed out the game by making eight of ten free throws in the final two minutes led by A.J. Abrams. When the clock hit 0:00, Texas had won 87-81.
Abrams led the Longhorns with 24 points. James added 20, while Dogus Balbay scored a career-high 11.
A Look at the Numbers
The Longhorns shot 44.8% (26-58) overall, 28.6% (4-14) from three and 72.1% (31-43) from the free throw line.
The Red Raiders converted 48.3% (28-58) from the floor, 41.7% (10-24) from the three point line and 71.4% (15-21) from the foul line.
Texas won the battle of the boards 39-29 and the turnover battle 12-10.
The Longhorns overcame a sloppy start to grab an early lead, struggled through the last part of the first half, came out with a quicker pace in the second half and closed the game from the free throw line. It wasn't pretty, but it was a win and getting to nine wins in Big 12 play is all that matters at this point.
Damion James is back at home at the four/PF spot. With 20 points and 11 rebounds, James recorded his fourth straight double double since moving back to the four spot. James, with his improved ball handling and ability to put the ball on the floor, can really excel driving on the opponent's big men. At the wing, he's below average in that area.
James is also playing closer to the basket and is dominating on the offensive glass much more than earlier in the season. The move has also taken emphasis off of catching the ball on the wing in transition and finishing plays or making plays for teammates. Instead he plays in more of the trail role and can pick his spots and get back to posting in the mid-range.
As has been the case in the last four games, Balbay's energy was the difference for Texas. Balbay was turned loose in the second half and attacked. The sophomore creates transition-scoring chances for himself and others due to quickness and speed. A bad third foul by Balbay likely kept Texas from taking control of the game midway through the second half. Balbay scored a career-high 11 points as well as dishing out five assists and snagging four rebounds.
Clint Chapman was terrific early in the game finishing a couple of plays, where he has struggled this year. He made a great steal and then finished and knocked down the free throw for a three-point play early on. In the second half, Chapman wasn't as effective, but he played a career-high 22 minutes and his body is used to spot minutes here and there.
Chapman finished with a career-high seven points as well as three rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot. While he didn't have a huge game, this could be a real confidence building game for Chapman. He still has time to help this team in the regular season and Big 12 Tournament. As importantly, he really needs to come on for Texas headed into the offseason, as he will be a key contributor next year on the interior.
Texas Tech's strategy late in the game was a good for Texas. The Longhorns had Chapman, Balbay and Mason on the floor at the same time with under two minutes to go and Texas Tech had the chance to put any of the three at the line. Instead, Tech chose to not foul quickly away from the ball and the Longhorns got the ball to Abrams. In fact, Tech could have fouled Chapman or Balbay at any point in the final four minutes, as both were in the game plenty, with Balbay being in the game the whole way.
Varez Ward again stepped to the free throw line late and knocked down a pair. Those were key free throws and it is nice to see Ward continuing to impact winning late in games. He also defended John Roberson very well in the closing minutes.
A.J. Abrams made several key free throws and did a very good job of chasing Ala Voskuil, especially after picking up two first half fouls and staying in the game.
The Longhorn's first half defense was horrendous. The Texas guards didn't defend the three point line well to say the least and for whatever reason turned their head and looked to help when the ball was throw into a Texas Tech forward or post player. No reason for Texas to double any Tech player in the mid-range or post. While Singletary had success, he wasn't going to beat Texas.
Texas, without James in the game, is a bad rebounding team. Just something to tuck away and revisit next year when James is in the NBA. Not having Gary Johnson hurt on the glass for sure, but Texas Tech is a very bad rebounding team and had a 16-15 first half advantage.
Justin Mason three-point and mid-range jump shot attempts were as bad as one will ever see. It is sad to see a player that shot 39.8% from the three-point line as a freshman and who looked to take big shots in late game situations play with as little confidence as he has at this point. His struggles have made their way to the defensive end where Mason jumps instead of sliding his feet and is not a very good defender at this point. He is getting lost too much this year when defending a quality shooter.
The Longhorns improved to 8-5 in Big 12 play with the win and are now a win away from locking up an NCAA Tournament bid. Combine the Texas win with Missouri's 94-74 win over Kansas State tonight and the Longhorns are in fourth all alone in the conference race. Should Texas find a way to win their next two games, at Oklahoma State Saturday and versus Baylor in Austin Monday night, they would likely finish in fourth place and receive a first round bye in the big 12 Tournament. Kansas State still has games against Nebraska and at Oklahoma State before finishing the regular season against Colorado. While Kansas State could win out and finish 10-6, they haven't played at the level in the last couple of games that they were during their impressive run.