November 24, 2009

The Big Review: Lesson learned in KC

Lesson learned.

In the aftermath of the No.3 Texas Longhorns 85-60 win over Iowa in the semi-finals of the CBE Classic, the message that Rick Barnes needed to send home was delivered - championships aren't won with press clippings and early polls.

After an early flurry of early three-point bombs from Jordan Hamilton and inside hoops from Dexter Pittman, the Longhorns held a 26-13 lead and appeared to be on their way to a lopsided victory. There were just a few little problems - like defensive intensity and focus on offense.

The next thing you knew, Iowa's Cully Payne is knocking down a buzzer-beater from the three-point line on the other side of the court and the Hawkeyes had the game tied at 38-38 at the half. For those keeping score at home, that means that the Hawkeyes went on a 25-8 run in 9:07 in the first half.

Enter Texas head coach Rick Barnes and his first real opportunity to use the pre-season as a time for teaching. With a back-to-the-basics attitude to begin the second half, the Longhorns went right back to Pittman in the early minutes of the second half, as the big man reeled off three straight buckets to give the Longhorns a lead that they wouldn't relinquish the rest of the night.

"Coach told me and Damion (James) we didn't show the first half," Pittman said. "I took it on myself to go out there and make a difference."

The spark from Pittman, coupled with a charge from the defense and transition game allowed the Longhorns to explode for 17 straight points to create some separation with 55-41 lead.

The Hawkeyes were able to stick around for most of the second half, but another Pittman and freshman guard J'Covan Brown worked together to provide the knockout punch during a 2:26 stretch following the eight-minute TV timeout, as the big fella went inside for a pair of baskets and Brown followed with a pair of lay-ups to move the lead to 72-43.

Hamilton led five Longhorns in double figures with 16 points, while Pittman followed with 15 points and eight rebounds, and Brown finished with 14 points.

"They're getting better," Barnes said. "They just need to sustain it for longer periods of time."

Inside the Numbers

The Longhorns finished the night 30-of-55 from the field (54.5 percent), 8-of-26 (30.8 percent) from three-point land and were 17-of-24 (70.8 percent) from the free throw line. The Hawkeyes were 20-of-64 from the field (31.3 percent), 10-of-35 (28.6 percent) from three-point land and were 10-of-14 (71.4 percent) from the free throw line. The Longhorns dominated the Hawkeyes on the glass 39-26, while also besting them in bench points (39-13), assists (20-13), blocks (10-1) and steals (12-7). Both teams finished with 15 turnovers.

Star of the game

This team is at its best offensively when it works the ball inside to Pittman on the block and when they committed to feeding him the rock on Monday night, he delivered in a huge way. The senior center scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half, while connecting on seven of nine shots from the field. Add in eight rebounds (three offensive), three blocks and a steal in 22 minutes and you have a very efficient and productive night for the All-Big 12 candidate.

Unsung hero

J'Covan Brown didn't get the start tonight and there were times when he seemed to channel his inner Sidney Deane, but there's no denying that he's an impact player when he's on the floor and his 16 points in 19 minutes gives you an idea of just how explosive he can be on that end. As he continues to settle down against this new level of competition, he has a chance to be a big X-factor for this team.

The best sign that you might have missed

Back-up point guard Dogus Balbay continues to be a lightening rod for this team off the bench, as he dished out four assists, blocked three shots and recorded two steals in 17 minutes of action.

On the other hand…

The battle for playing time at guard is really intense at this stage of the season and senior Justin Mason did not have a productive night in 13 minutes of action, as he scored two points and had three assists. The bigger issue is that Mason is supposed to be a glue guy and an energy guy for Barnes, but his fingerprints were not all over the action tonight and when Barnes turned to other guys in the second half when the Longhorns went on their big run.

Oops, can I hit the reset button?

Although the Longhorns struggled to get the ball down low on the block at times in the first half, they were able to get Pittman a fantastic look on their opening possession, but he had his dunk attempt blocked by a rim that appeared to move away from Pittman at the last second.

Gold medal play of the night

Hamilton is worth the price of admission when he starts gaining some steam on the offensive end and when he went on a three-for-three three-point binge in the span of less than two minutes in the first half, the entire nation got its first taste of one of the nation's most dangerous offensive players.

Longhorn Dunk O'Meter

Because these things matter to me, here's a look at the dunk scorecard from tonight:

Dexter Pittman - 1

(Note: It should be an official game if Avery Bradley doesn't get a dunk)

The BIG number

30

That's the number of points that freshmen Hamilton and Brown scored off the bench for the Longhorns. As those two players continue to gain confidence on both ends of the court, the nation's No.3 team will really start to carry that kind of a look. It's only a matter of time.

Up next…

The Longhorns will face undefeated Pittsburgh (4-0) in the championship game of the CBE Classic on Tuesday night at 9PM on ESPN2.

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