November 25, 2009

Horns dominate second half, win CBE Classic

Clearly, Rick Barnes has primarily stressed defense to this years Longhorn team, and the offense has some catching up to do. The team is leaps and bounds ahead of last year's squad in terms of offensive talent, but Tuesday night's match up against Pitt was yet another sign that this team is far from reaching its potential.

In beating previously undefeated Pittsburgh 78-62 on Tuesday night in the championship game of the CBE Classic, the Longhorns played from a familiar script. The conest was practically a mirror image of Monday's contest against Iowa. The No.3 Longhorns jumped out of the gate to pick up an early lead and looked to be the dominant team with the presence of Dexter Pittman down low and some quick baskets from freshman point guard J'Covan Brown. Texas made five of its first eight shots and managed an 18-13 lead with 10 minutes left in the first half.

However, Pittman found himself in foul trouble and shots started to clang off the rim for the Horns. UT seemed to forget about the success it has had in the paint. Forced shots and lack of ball movement became common themes in the final 10 minutes of the first half.

Nasir Robinson and Brad Wanamaker teamed up to give the Pitt offense a spark and the team took advantage of the Horn's foul troubles. The Panthers made 4-of-8 three pointers and 8-of-10 free throws in the first half to take a 34-32 lead into the break.

Then the good news arrived for Texas. Barnes had his second opportunity in as many days to coach up his players in a critical situation. Barnes was able to smooth out the offensive woes, and get his team to find open shots instead of creating them individually.

Just like last night, Pittman was going to be the centerpiece of the Longhorns offensive attack to start the second half, but the big man picked up his third foul less than a minute into the second frame and returned to the bench. Pittman didn't return until the 10:50 mark.

With its most dominant low-post player on the bench, Texas turned to an aggressive style of play on offense and began to spread the ball around and find open shots. Dogus Balbay and Damion James were able to keep the game close, and when Pittman finally returned, Texas ran away from the Panthers.

James made a hard fought lay up that he converted into a three-point play with 10 minutes to play to give the Longhorns a 54-51 lead and UT would never trail again. Jordan Hamilton hit a key three-pointer and Justin Mason made an easy lay up next to a huge Pittman screen to increase the lead to 63-54 with 7:50 left.

James hit another three pointer followed by freshman Avery Bradley's make from behind the arch with a minute to go, which sealed up the Horns 78-62 victory, and a CBE Classic championship.

James led all scorers with 20 points, followed by Brown's 12. Pittman, Balbay, and Bradley each had 10.

Star of the game

With his team trailing at the half, Damion James knew he had to embrace his leadership role and take care of business for his team. James ended the night with a team-high 20 points and nine rebounds, most of which came in the second half. James began to dominate the glass when it really mattered, and his play helped Texas get into a groove and run away with it in the end.

Unsung hero

Dogus Balbay was just as important as James in this game. He adds a spark to the lineup off the bench because he plays with so much energy, and his play on the defensive side of the ball was outstanding. He forced turnovers and picked up three steals to go along with his 10 points and nine rebounds. Balbay played a very solid game, and has become a key asset to this year's squad.

Inside the numbers

Texas only made 12-of-29 shots in the first half (41.4 percent), just 2-of-9 from three-point land (22 percent), and hit on just 6-of-12 free throws (50 percent). Those are not the type of numbers you want to see from one of the nation's top teams, and the Horns greatly improved in half number two. Texas ended the game making 29-of-56 shots (51.8 percent), 6-of-16 three pointers (37.5 percent), and 14-of-24 free throws (58.3 percent).
The Longhorns held Pitt to a 40.7 field goal percentage (22-of-54) and allowed the Panthers to hit just 4-of-15 three pointers (26.7 percent).

Varez Ward is a huge loss

Ward went down with a right knee injury in warm ups Tuesday Night and had to be carted off the floor on a stretcher. Ward is a big loss for Texas as he has experience playing the point and has become one of the Longhorn's strongest defenders. Some of tonight's offensive woes may have been avoided with Ward on the floor, and Texas fans should really hope he can return soon.

Free throw percentage must improve

58.3 percent from the line is not going to cut it. Dexter Pittman, Damion James, and the young guys have got to work on their free throws, because the way they shot tonight could cost them a game down the road against tougher opponents.

Play of the game

With four minutes to play, Dogus Balbay came up with a spectacular steal, which he then took down the floor and dumped off to Damion James down low for an acrobatic lay up and the foul. The play gave the Horns a 71-59 lead.

Longhorn Dunk-O-Meter

Damion James - 1
Alexis Wangmene - 1
Avery Bradley - 1

The BIG number


Texas picked up 22 fouls Tuesday night, and the biggest issue was Pittman getting into foul trouble early. Texas was forced to play big chunks of minutes without its most dominant force in the paint. Alexis Wangmene fouled out and Balbay had four fouls. UT needs to limit the fouls to stay out of the penalty and keep teams off the free throw line.

Up next…

The Longhorns will get a break for the holidays after becoming the CBE Classic champions. The next game will be played in Houston, as Texas will travel to face Rice on Sunday, November 29. Tip off is set for 3:00 PM.

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