December 30, 2009

The BIG Breakdown: No. 2 Horns roll

Coming off back-to-back hard fought victories over top ten teams in UNC and Michigan State, the No. 2 Texas Longhorns (12-0) were in prime position to come out flat and look past an over-matched Gardner Webb squad on Tuesday afternoon. However, Texas head coach Rick Barnes is coaching a different bunch this year.

So far this season his crew has shown that they will come out focused and play at a high level no matter the opponent and Tuesday's performance followed that mentality.

The Gardner Webb Bulldogs (3-8) have had a rough start to the season with an extremely tough schedule having already picked up losses at UNC, Duke, and Penn State. Tuesday Night's 95-63 loss to the Horns in Austin just added insult to injury.

Both teams were sloppy to start the contest as the first four minutes saw each team commit 5 turnovers. But the game got out of hand at the 13:00 minute mark in the first half thanks to two first-year Longhorns. Freshman J'Covan Brown drained a three pointer, and junior transfer Jai Lucas followed with two straight 3-point bombs of his own to give Texas a 20-7 lead. Gardner Webb was down by double-digits for the remainder of the game.

Lucas had his most complete performance in burnt orange against the Bulldogs, finishing with a team high 15 points, including five three pointers, while also adding two assists. He showed he can be the deadly shooter from the point guard position that this team has lacked in previous seasons, but Lucas knows he has a long way to go.

"It'll take a few more games," said Lucas. "I still don't feel like I'm where I need to be. There are still some things I need to work on so I just need to stay focused."

Senior Dexter Pittman made his presence felt early and often against the Bulldogs picking up eight of his 15 total points in the first half to go along with nine total rebounds and three blocks. Pittman was also able to stop his recent trend of getting into foul trouble and didn't pick up a single foul in his 18 minutes on the floor. The Horns didn't have a single team foul for the first 12 minutes of the game.

"Once conference play starts it's going to be real tough because everyone knows what everybody can do," said Pittman. "That's why you go out there and continue to get better as a team and as an individual."

With 6:05 to play, Damion James put his signature on the game in a 30 second span. The double-double machine made two free throws, threw down a dunk assisted by Pittman, then made it to the free throw line once again to knock down two more shots. He finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and five steals to pick up career double-double number 43.

Eleven Longhorns got on the score sheet and four were able to get to double figures. The only player who got on the floor and failed to score a point was freshman Jordan Hamilton.

Inside the Numbers

The Longhorns ended the night making 36-of-77 shots (46.8 percent) and 7-of-23 three-point attempts (30.4 percent). Texas greatly improved at the free throw line making 16-of-21 shots from the charity stripe (76.2 percent). The Longhorn defense was able to hold the Bulldogs to just 23-of-67 from the field (34.3 percent), but Gardner Webb had success from long range making 12-of-24 attempts behind the arc (50.0 percent). The Longhorns owned the rebound battle pulling down 51 boards (17 offensive) compared to Garnder Webb's 31 (11 offensive). Both teams committed quite a few turnovers, but Texas' 19 giveaways don't look too bad compared to Garner Webb's horrendous mark of 27.

Stars of the Game

Senior leaders James and Pittman dominated the paint just like they should against less talented post players. It was just another day at the office for James, as he picked up yet another double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds, and Pittman was unstoppable down low - making 7-of-8 shot attempts for 15 points, while also grabbing nine rebounds.

Unsung hero No. 1

Lucas came out on fire in his most productive game as a Longhorn making his first three attempts from long range. He did a great job protecting the ball while running the point picking up two assists and only committing one turnover on the night. He also performed well on defense causing several turnovers, which will only lead to an increase in his minutes.

Unsung hero No. 2

Gary Johnson is quietly having one of the best seasons of any Texas player, and his performance Tuesday night shows that he belongs on the floor in clutch situations. The tough junior sees the incredible depth on this team and continues to play extremely hard to fight for his minutes. Johnson ended the game as the third leading scorer with 11 points, six rebounds (three offensive), and one steal.

Showing he deserves to be on the floor

After several tough outings, many have wondered why Rick Barnes has stuck with Justin Mason in the starting lineup. His shooting from behind the arc continues to be dreadful, but Mason showcased his other talents Tuesday night. Mason had success dishing the ball off to his teammates (four assists) and the senior also played lock down defense forcing many turnovers and coming up with two steals. Mason was much more aggressive on offensive in this game, as he was able makes a few easy mid range shots and lay ups to go along with a monster highlight reel dunk near the end of the first half.


Free throw shooting suddenly improves

For the first time this season, the Longhorns were able to consistently knock down free throws. This has been the one real problem for the squad coming into the game, but Damion James and Gary Johnson led the team combining to make 15-of-16 attempts from the line. The Horns will need to continue hitting free throws as conference games approach.

On the other hand…

Turnovers were a big problem for Texas against Gardner Webb. The first 12 minutes of the game saw the Longhorns turn the ball over 11 times, and Texas finished with 19 on the day. That number needs to be greatly reduced or the more talented teams coming up on the schedule will take advantage.

Longhorn Dunk O'Meter

Avery Bradley - 1
Clint Chapman - 1
Damion James - 1
Justin Mason - 2
Dexter Pittman - 2

The BIG number

15

That's the number of points Jai Lucas scored Tuesday night. If Lucas can add that kind of offense each game, this offense could get scary good. He needs to continue to work on his defense and ball distribution, but the offensive spark that he can add to this team could be the difference in certain ball games. This team's potential is through the roof.

Up next…
Texas will stay in Austin to face Texas A&M-Corpus Christi this Saturday, January 2 at the Erwin Center. Tip off is set for 3:30 PM.

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