No. 1 Texas Survives Aggies' Best Punch
The unranked Aggies never trailed in 40 minutes of regulation on the road and the No.1 Longhorns needed overtime and a sequence of incredible plays to avoid an upset in their first week at the top. When it was all over, the Longhorns were relieved to exit their Erwin Center with a 72-67 win over a very scrappy A&M squad.
"When you have a big target on your back, everybody likes to take a good shot," James said. "They came out and they punched us right in the mouth and we didn't retaliate until like the second half."
And even then, the undermanned and undersized Aggies kept coming right back, standing toe-to-toe with the country's top team until James took over late in the second half and continued in overtime. It was James' 3-pointer in overtime that secured the lead for good and then his block of a tying 3-point attempt from A&M guard B.J. Holmes with seven seconds left in the extra period that became the most pointed differences in a game the Aggies seemed poised to win for much of the night.
Iowa State and Texas A&M hasn't sent the message that life as No. 1 will be rough, their visit to No. 12 Kansas State on Monday night certainly should hammer it home.
"As a team, obviously I told them, when you are in the position we are right now the other team's energy level is going to be higher, their emotion level is going to be higher," said UT coach Rick Barnes, whose team improved to 17-0 and 3-0 in league play. "I don't care if you are playing at home or whatever.
"Of course, sometimes when you are playing at home and you are ranked high, people come in and play like they are playing with house money."
Actually, the Aggies (12-5, 1-2) just played like they were the better team. Senior forward Bryan Davis gave the Longhorns fits around the basket, while senior combo guard Donald Sloan schooled Texas' young guards for much of the first half as head coach Mark Turgeon had hoped.
The Longhorns also didn't help themselves by playing like a team of individuals during the first 20 minutes. If the fact their starters combined to connect on just 2 of 16 from the field wasn't bad enough, they managed just one assist as a team as they trailed by many as 13 points -- the Longhorns' largest deficit so far this season -- in the opening half.
James, the heart and soul of the team this season, was the major culprit as he had just 3 points on 1 of 7 shooting, but there was plenty of signs of selfish play from freshmen Avery Bradley, Jordan Hamilton and J'Covan Brown. The idea of running the offense through powerful center Dexter Pittman seemed to escape the Longhorns and add energy to A&M.
"We had our offense get us in a funk by trying to one-pass and go one-on-one and shoot the ball," Barnes said. "We didn't get any movement and couldn't get any offensive rebounds."
But the second half was much different, as James came out on a mission after a brief benching due to a defensive lapse. He scored 23 of his game-high 26 points in the final two periods to spark the Longhorns. It was big baskets by James and Gary Johnson that erased the second-half deficit and Johnson's two free throws tied it for the first time at 52-52 with 5:53 remaining in regulation.
James gave Texas its first lead of the game on a driving basket to open overtime.
You could see he had clearly decided to put the Longhorns on his back much to the delight of the 16,734 in the Erwin Center.
"We couldn't lose so we fought back," said James, whose 12 rebounds allowed him to tie the Big 12 career double-double record with 47. "We had a great crowd tonight and they really supported us and was really behind us. We just couldn't let up. When we put it into overtime we felt like it was our ballgame."
From that point, Texas' superior depth and the outstanding on-ball defense of Dogus Balbay and Bradley took over. The Longhorns bench outscored the Aggies 34-7.
The Aggies walked away feeling like they had let a rare one in Austin get away.
"We came here expecting to win, but give them the credit they deserve," said Sloan, who finished with 21 points and four turnovers. "But, we came here to win.
"No doubt about that, we can play on the same floor as them. We played our hardest and kind of let it slip away at the end."
The opposite can be said for the Longhorns, who might have already been anticipating the quick-turnaround challenge in Manhattan, Kan., on Monday. Barnes, however, knows games like Saturday night will be the norm more than exception as the Longhorns try to navigate a league full of quality teams.
"It was a hard-fought game," Barnes said. "I don't know what everybody else was thinking. What happened today -- I didn't expect us to get down 13 -- but I did expect this kind of game.
"I don't know what other people thought or what other people think, but we've got the best basketball league in the country and A&M has senior guys that have been around, they are extremely well-coached. If our players think we are just going to show up ... It's going to be flipped Monday night. We are not going to have the house. I hope we go in there with the same kind of intensity and passion A&M brought in here tonight."