The Longhorns, now 8-2, collared the Dogs at arms length with clutch free throw shooting down the stretch (13-of-18 for the game), a trap press and an otherwise solid defense that created 25 fast break points off of 18 Louisiana Tech turnovers. G Brandon Mouton continued to show that his mid-December slump is in the history books by leading all scorers with 16 points (4-of-9 FG), including three treys and 5-of-5 shooting from the charity stripe.
The team would have preferred a prettier ribbon on Barnes coaching milestone, T.J. Ford said.
"The biggest key right now is that were just confused as individuals," Ford said, raising eyebrows among media members. "I dont know if everybody understands what theyre supposed to do. Were always looking over our shoulders at someone else."
For Barnes, there is no confusing the fact that his team has generally lacked a mid-range game as well as consistent post play on the young season.
"What theyre confused about is all five guys not doing their job," Barnes said. "It goes back to a trust level. You dont just count on one guy. This game is a simple game if you allow it to be."
Confusion? Trust? Its all about implementing in the game that which has been emphasized in practice, Barnes added.
"The whole key is timing," Barnes said. "We post up when theres no reason to post up; were not posting up when we really need to post up. Guys need to get where they need to get. Its staying aggressive, too. Weve played against a lot of zone this year. Weve got guys who can shoot the ball. But, at some point, youve got to have a low-post and a mid-range game. Thats what we havent developed consistently. Weve got to get where we dunk it in hard. Weve got to get fouled more. We need to get to the free throw line. We didnt get any dribble-penetration tonight. And it cant be just one player. If T.J. starts to penetrate, everybody widens out the zone because they know hes looking to pass it."
Barnes was particularly upset that his post players did so poorly on the offensive boards "when we knew rebounding would be key in a game like this one." While Thomas pulled down 10 rebounds (three offensive), freshman Brad Buckman contributed but one rebound (defensive) and Jason Klotz added four (one offensive, three defensive).
No disrespect to Texas, Bulldog coach Keith Richard said, but his team finished second nationally in rebounding last season. Its an area where he expects his club to dominate, he added.
Mouton opened with the hot hand, scoring 10 of Texas first 14 points with a trio of treys. Moutons 4-point play, the result of Darrian Brown foul from beyond the arch at the 17:25 mark, put Texas up 11-0.
But quicker than you can say "Who Let the Dogs Out?" Louisiana Tech switched to the 1-2-2 zone it implemented just four days ago and tied the game at 29 when Brown drained a 3-pointer with 1:54 remaining in the first half.
But Brian Boddicker responded with his best defensive effort of the season (two blocks, one steal, and created several turnovers). With 75 ticks until intermission, the junior blocked freshman Jeremy Johnstons jumper, grabbed the defensive board and then answered with a trey. Overall, Boddicker contributed 10 points off the bench (4-of-7) and Texas led 39-34 at the break.
Thomas, who did not launch a field goal attempt in the first 20 minutes after picking up two quick fouls, was called for his third personal just 30 seconds into the second half. But Royal Iveys soft jumper followed by Moutons baseline-driving slam completed a 9-0 Texas run.
Entering Mondays game with 17 double-doubles in his last 32 games, including six of the first nine this season, Thomas was whistled with his fourth personal with 10:35 remaining and Texas holding its largest lead of the night, 46-34. With the junior big man on the bench, the visitors drew within six after Lavelle Feltons jumper made it 46-40 in a contest in which both the pace and tempers were on the upswing.
Mired in a nine minute scoring slump (it did not end until Thomas connected on his only field goal of the night with 3:19 left), the turning point in this one may have come when senior F Zach Johnson was sent to the dog house after picking up his fourth and fifth fouls (a personal and a technical) at the 7:49 mark.
Ford hit 3-of-4 at the line, giving Texas a 49-40 edge. Thomas field goal would also be Texas last of the contest as Ford would conclude the Horns' abysmal second half shooting with a missed jump shot and a pair of missed free throws. Ford finished with 11 points (2-of-9 FGs, 6-of-11 FTs), five assists and four turnovers.
Senior F Antonio Meeking, Louisiana Techs leading scorer (18.7 ppg) and shot blocker (7), collected just his second field goal with 6:59 remaining and was held to eight points (3-of-8), six boards and two blocks.
"We did a great job, for the most part, on (Meeking)," Barnes said. "He was the guy we were really concerned about."
Texas played without its "toughest, most hard-nosed player" in Deginald Erskin, Barnes noted. The senior was in Gonzales attending his mothers funeral. Texas players wore a black armband portraying Erskins number (15) as a show of support to their teammate. Barnes and several members of the basketball staff traveled to Gonzales on Sunday.
"Theres no question that in the kind of game we had tonight, Deginald would have made a difference," Barnes said.
"When you play three, Top 20 teams on the road, you worry about your team getting beaten down," Richard said. "The thing we accomplished tonight is that we came out of here with our heads held high."
Barnes is now 300-179 in his 16th season as a head coach. Just five weeks into his fifth-year at Texas, Barnes is 98-45 on the Longhorn bench with the best winning percentage in school history (.685).
"That (300th win) really doesnt mean anything to me; it really doesnt," Barnes said. "If anything, its a compliment to the players that Ive been with. Compared to a lot of guys in this league, Im still a pup."
No pun intended on a night that nearly went to the Dogs.
Texas closes out its non-conference slate against Mount St. Marys at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Erwin Center. The Horns open Big 12 play at home against Iowa State at 8 p.m. on January 11 in an ESPN+ televised game.