No. 3 UT, Mouton Unload Against Outgunned Tech

On a night when two Texas Tech players (junior guard and Big 12 scoring-leader <B>Andre Emmett</b>, senior F <B>Nick Valdez</b>) were suspended indefinitely by a team vote Monday morning, Texas junior G <B>Brandon Mouton </b>bombed the outgunned Red Raiders with 6-of-8 shooting from beyond the arch to pace No. 3 UT's 77-65 win over the scrappy visitors. The win lifted Texas to 18-4 on the season, 9-2 in league play. Tech head coach <B>Bobby Knight</b> saw his team fall to 14-8 (4-7 in Big 12).

Emmett (20.9 ppg) and Valdez did not play because they missed the team's walk-though at the Erwin Center Monday morning, according to a Texas Tech press release. But Knight had this to say about why two key players did not suit up for a critical ESPN ‘Big Monday' game when his squad desperately needed a quality win to make a run at a second straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament:

"It's none of your goddamned business," Knight said. "Let's not worry about a couple of kids who didn't play. Does anybody here want to talk about guys who did play?"

Uh, coach, what do you think about the performance of Mouton, who led all scorers with 21 points (7-of-13 FG, 1-of-2 FT)? The junior dropped five straight three-point bombs during a 6:38 span late in the first half to break an 18-18 tie.

"Why pick out an individual?" Knight responded. "Did Mouton just win the high jump? This is a (Texas) team that is good in every respect."

And this is a coach who, love him or loath him, is bigger than the game itself.

The near-capacity crowd of 13,912 was not on hand to see a Tech team limp into town with a losing conference record. In fact, Monday's affair was not strictly about supporting a UT basketball team that has now spent 15 weeks in the Associated Press Top 10. General admission seats for this one disappeared long before hoops hysteria became a near-epidemic in Austin; it was a rare sellout last year when none but the cautiously optimistic had Texas penciled in as a Sweet Sixteen team.

Nope, Big Monday was Knight Time. And Knight is a coaching icon with rock star status (with whom I associate with Texas Tech about as much I associate Michael Jordan with the Washington Wizards). People pay money to see Knight detonate on the sideline in the way he did in the interview room. And despite his unprecedented success, his self-sabotaging tirades turn him into a one-man sideshow.

Admit it: if you were at the Erwin Center, you wanted him to throw a chair. Instead, Texas threw down seemingly every trey (10-of-20 three-pointers) that it put up. While G Sydmill Harris shook off Saturday's injury at Nebraska to hit a couple of treys on a 3-of-6 night, no Horn has been hotter than Brandon Mouton.

"It has to do with the fact that Brandon is playing with a group of guys that play well with each other," head coach Rick Barnes said. "He's not trying to force anything. He's letting the game come to him. I think the biggest thing is Brandon's improvement on the defensive end. It has a tendency to free your mind on the offense end to where you begin to instinctively do things. He's playing with a lot of confidence."

Sophomore T.J. Ford bounced back from a two-game scoring slump, converting 7-of-11 FG and adding seven assists and five boards. Ford's jumper with 12:44 remaining gave Texas a 62-42 cushion, while senior F Chris Ogden clanked a three (it bounced high above the rim two or three times before falling) to give the Horns their largest lead at 71-48. The Red Raiders finished the game with a 17-6 run to make it respectable, given the day's events.

Texas Tech senior G Will Chavis said Emmett and Valdez "didn't deserve to play in the game tonight after the way they played against Oklahoma (a 63-58 home loss Saturday)," adding that he was "happy to have played with the guys that I played with tonight. We got beat, but we played as a team."

When Knight was asked if he had concerns about Emmett's defense against OU, Knight said: "I've had concerns about Emmett's defense for two years."

Barnes said he didn't have enough details to comment on the suspension but stated, "From the outside looking in, I'm sure (Knight) had his reasons for what he did, and you have to admire him for it."

Knight inherited a Tech team that went 9-19 and guided it to a 23-9 NCAA appearance. This year, the Big 12 is expected to again send six teams to the Big Dance with Tech duking it out with Colorado (15-8, 5-5 in Big 12) for the coveted final spot. You figure the Buffaloes have the edge with upset wins over Kansas and Texas, while Tech must win four of its next five (a slate that includes Kansas, Oklahoma State and Texas) just to have a break-even conference record.

While UT students chanted "NIT" in the closing minutes, Tech players are confident that they can rebound and land in the Big Dance, given that three of its next five games are at home. While Knight quickly dismissed any speculation where his team might land next month, he was just as quick to praise the players who will carry the Tech banner the rest of the season: "I believe this -- if we started the season last October with these eight guys, we'd be a better ball club than we are now."

Both teams shot evenly from the field (Texas was 27-of-61 for 44.3 percent; Tech was 26-of-60 for 43.3 percent) and poorly from the charity stripe (Texas was 13-of-19 for 68.4 percent while Tech was 10-of-19 for 52.6 percent). Texas out-rebounded the visitors, 41-34.

Tech has lost 12 straight to UT, dating back to a 72-70 Red Raider win in Lubbock on February 22, 1997.

Next up for Texas is a crucial rematch at No. 16 Oklahoma State Saturday. ESPN+ is scheduled to broadcast the contest at 3 p.m.


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