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February 2, 2010

Jordan Hamilton unlocks Texas' offense

The story of Texas' 72-60 victory Monday night in Stillwater, where Oklahoma State had a 16-game, home win streak, starts with Texas down 32-22 with 3:21 left in the first half.

Justin Mason
had already bricked four shots. He and Dogus Balbay were creating offense on the floor together the way cement mixers mix cement.

Dexter Pittman was continuing to press, grabbing more fouls (3) than rebounds (2) on his way to a 2-point, 2-rebound, 2-turnover, 10-minute night. (This is Rick Barnes' next project, but we have a solution. More on that in a minute.)


RICK BARNES THINKS OFFENSE?

Then, low and behold, Rick Barnes, apparently tired of watching his team turn blue from a lack of offense, put Jordan Hamilton back into the game with 2:14 left in the half.


Hamilton had gotten two minutes of action from the 12:40 mark to the 10:40 mark and posted a block, 2 defensive rebounds and a difficult runner before missing a 3-pointer early in the shot clock and getting yanked with the game tied at 10-10.

When Hamilton re-entered the game, the lineup on the floor was Hamilton, Damion James, Gary Johnson, Clint Chapman and J'Covan Brown. And that lineup was facing a 2-3 zone, the same defense Baylor threw at Texas in an 80-77 overtime upset on Saturday.


INSTANT SPARK

Hamilton immediately drilled a 3-pointer and spurred his own, personal, 7-2 run, cutting UT's halftime deficit to 36-32. With Kevin Durant sitting behind the UT bench, waving his fist in the air with every jaw-dropping Hamilton shot, Texas came back to life like those 8-footers in Avatar.

Hamilton never slowed down, finishing with 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block in just 19 minutes.

Only 19 minutes.

"We've been such a ball-screen team, so much," Barnes told ESPN's Holly Rowe. "With Dogus in the game, his guy sets off. Justin Mason's guy sets off, so we wanted to get movement.

"Jordan Hamilton came into the game and did a great job tonight. And if our freshmen can keep doing what they're doing right now, we've got a chance to be the team we want to be."


When asked why Hamilton had such a big game, Barnes said:

"He's growing up because he's starting to understand the team concept. He was thinking. He was into the game. He's got the ability to do that. We've seen him do that. What we were most impressed with was his attitude and the way he's been working defensively, trying to get better."


ABOUT TIME


I'm not going to waste a bunch of time recapping my thoughts from the Baylor loss. They are still posted in the Hoops Zone, for those who are interested.

But I basically said Barnes had to snap out of his Clemson and Providence mentality, where he won with guys like Justin Mason and start living with some of the freshmen mistakes of J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton.

Hamilton getting only 2 minutes against a Baylor team playing a 2-3 zone will be forever etched in my mind, just like Dogus Balbay's 2 minutes in a home loss to Missouri last year and James Thomas' 4 minutes in a 79-71 loss to Xavier in the Sweet 16 in 2004.

Unexplainable.


UNINTENDED BRILLIANCE

And anyone who thinks Barnes had it in his mind before the game to give Hamilton a bunch of minutes in Stillwater is crazy. He was a last resort, which makes things even more intriguing. Hamilton basically had to force Barnes to leave him on the floor.

But Hamilton was so good, so fearless and, thankfully for Texas, still confident, his production was impossible to ignore.


A LESSON LEARNED?

Here is the point. Hamilton averaged 19.3 minutes through the first 16 games, when Texas was averaging 88.2 points per game.

Starting against Texas A&M, Hamilton's minutes began to vanish. So did Texas' ability to score. In the five games leading up to Monday night's game in Stillwater, Hamilton was averaging just 11.2 minutes per game, and Texas was averaging just 76 ppg in that stretch, which included three losses.

Hamilton's minutes the five games leading up to the OSU game mostly went to Justin Mason, who averaged 24.8 minutes in the four-game stretch in which Texas lost three of four.

Mason played 18 minutes against OSU and scored 4 points on 2-of-6 shooting while showing none of the aggressiveness he showed against Texas Tech (18 points on 8-of-12 shooting).


THE NUMBERS DON'T LIE

Rick Barnes has several sayings, one of which is, "The big eye in the sky don't lie." The big eye in the sky has made it abundantly clear Mason needs to be a salty, valued bit player on this team. And that it's time for the freshmen Hamilton, J'Covan and Avery Bradley (10 points, 3 rebounds) to each be getting 15 to 20 minutes per game from here on out.

Let me repeat, as hot as Hamilton was on Monday night, he only played 19 minutes. In fact, Hamilton didn't even get back in the game in the second half until the 14:51 mark with Texas trailing 43-40.

Hamilton's first offensive play when he came back in was an assist to Damion James (14 points, 6 rebounds). Hamilton's first shot of the second half didn't fall, but it was a good look at a runner from 6 feet.

But then it was on. J'Covan Brown made a beautiful cross-court pass to Hamilton, who saw the baseline was open thanks to a great seal by Chapman and drove aggressively for a windmill dunk, cutting OSU's lead to 45-44.

Then Gary Johnson (8 pts, 10 rebounds) made a nice aggressive move in the paint for two, putting Texas up 46-45. Hamilton then hit back-to-back 3-pointers on his way to 11 straight points. Ballgame.


JUST LIKE OLD TIMES ... WELL, DECEMBER

Combine Hamilton's offense with Dogus Balbay putting the Big 12's leading scorer James Anderson, who had 24 in the first half, in The Turkish Prison in the second half (Anderson had just 4 points in the second half), and Texas looked like Texas again.

Here's a stat to file away: When Hamilton has played at least 20 minutes in a game, Texas has won those games by an average of 29.3 points, including victories against Iowa, Michigan State and Colorado.

The fact is, when you have J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton on the court together, you have two offensive magicians who can get their own shot whenever they want. Do they make some freshmen mistakes that lead to easy baskets for the other team? Yeah.

But they also turn opponents inside out over the course of a game because no one knows how to defend Hamilton, Brown, Damion James, Avery Bradley and either Gary Johnson or Dexter Pittman when that lineup is on the floor for Texas.

UT players feel the swagger when that lineup is on the floor and it becomes contagious to the rest of the bench. Suddenly, Chapman, Lexi Wangmene and Matt Hill come in and give you good minutes (like they did against North Carolina and a few other games).


TIME TO CHANGE THE STARTING LINEUP

The key to this Texas team taking off is building the chemistry around a starting lineup that should be Dogus Balbay, J'Covan Brown, Avery Bradley, Damion James and Dexter Pittman.

Bring Hamilton in off the bench for Dogus or Avery 6-8 mins into the game, about the same time you bring in Gary Johnson for Dexter Pittman.

Talk about an offensive infusion. The only time you bring in Justin Mason is if Dogus or Avery is in foul trouble or for a quick blow.

And it's painfully obvious to everyone except Barnes, apparently, that Mason and Balbay never need to be on the floor together again this season unless Texas is up 20.

Having Brown and Hamilton on the floor together is like having a dual-threat quarterback. The defense doesn't know if it should extend (and risk the blow-by), sag off (and hope they miss some 3-pointers) or what? That means Texas holds the advantage. The other UT players have a swagger when they're on the floor with Brown and Hamilton.


THIS WAS A SEASON TURNING POINT

The other team senses that swagger. By the 8-minute mark of the OSU game, Hamilton's offensive surge helped Texas take a 59-49 lead - a 21-point swing in the game from Texas' biggest deficit, 27-16, with 5:28 left in the first half. On the road. In a hostile environment. In a make-or-break game.

This will end up being a turning point in the season if Barnes quits looking for reasons to take Brown and Hamilton off the floor and starts looking for reasons to leave them on it.

Earlier in the day, Barnes said on the Big 12 coaches call, "Sometimes when things are going really, really well, things get masked a little bit. And I don't think there's a problem every now and then with getting stung and having to endure a little adversity.

"Even when we were rolling pretty well, I kept telling people, 'We aren't anywhere close to where we have to be.' Winning masks that stuff sometimes. But it didn't with me. I knew. Sometimes adversity is good. A little sting now and then helps you grow. So I'm OK with it."


These comments are almost as head-scratching as when Barnes said he consulted John Calipari about holding the No. 1 ranking and saying he did a poor job of getting his guys to realize how much they'd be "under attack" at the top of the heap.

Seriously? First of all, Calipari is not someone to consult for advice about anything - unless it's how to be hoodwinked or worked over. The guy will cut anyone's throat to get ahead.

For Barnes, it should be about turning the young guys loose, like Barnes did Monday night. And guess what? It wasn't so painful. With Brown playing 30 minutes, Bradley playing 22 and Hamilton 19, Texas only turned the ball over 5 times.

The bottom line is, something told Barnes to put Jordan Hamilton back into the game Monday night with 2:14 left in the first half, and Hamilton scored 7 quick points. The life returned to the Longhorns.


PITTMAN WILL BENEFIT FROM LINEUP CHANGES

Barnes gave up on Pittman in this game and went with Gary Johnson and Clint Chapman. But when guys are breaking down the defense like Hamilton and Brown, Pittman will get better shots.

If Pittman would have come back into the game, he would have feasted on the Cowboys, who were reeling.

I'm not saying Hamilton will consistently score like he did Monday night. But now it's on film. Now, he's a threat to do it again. And if he can keep showing some of the maturity he did against Oklahoma State by being a passer, a willing defender and showing the same shot selection, there is nothing but better days ahead.


UP NEXT: Texas plays at Oklahoma on Saturday against a Sooner team that lost at Nebraska last Saturday and doesn't play again until the Longhorns show up at Lloyd Noble.

This is a game Texas will be expected to win because OU has battled all kinds of adversity (injuries, suspensions) and has lost six of its last 10 games.

If Barnes replaces Mason with J'Covan Brown in the starting lineup and works to get Hamilton in off the bench in short order, this team's passing-a-kidney-stone offensive woes will be a thing of the past.


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