January 2, 2009

The BIG Review: Horns blast Mountaineers

As the No.7 Texas Longhorns entered their first game of the 2009 calendar year, they wanted to make sure that they accomplished something that they had been unable to for most of their first 12 games in November and December - beat the ever-living daylights out of the opponent.

Mission accomplished.

While the Longhorns have won game after game early in the season, they haven't dominated the opposition, even in games when they probably should have, but with a full week off to rest up for their match-up against Appalachian State, the stars were definitely aligned.

Junior big-man Dexter Pittman, junior Damion James and sophomore Gary Johnson combined for 51 points, 34 rebounds and six blocks, as the Longhorns blasted the Mountaineers 78-43 at the Frank Erwin Center.

Pittman led the way with a career-high 21 points and 12 rebounds, as he opened up the first half by scoring UT's first seven points, while also scoring the first six points for the Longhorns in the second half.

Whether it was his display of soft touch around the basket or powerful moved to the rim, Pittman was just too much for the Mountaineers.

"I was just doing the execution coach wanted us to do," Pittman said. "That was running our plays and for me to duck in and for me to get the ball and just go up. If I didn't have it, we could always reverse it and one of the shooters could shoot it. But I was open a lot of the times."

While Pittman was the headliners, James and Johnson also took turns having their way with ASU, as James recorded his third straight double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Johnson added 16 points, nine rebounds and a career-high five blocks.

The Mountaineers actually were within five points (28-23) with two minutes remaining in the first half, but 10 straight points by Pittman in a five minute stretch to close to the first half and to begin the second half put the game out of reach, as Texas went on a 22-7 run to open up their lead.

"It took forever to realize that they had no one who could guard Dexter and when they finally started giving him the ball, he did okay," Texas head coach Rick Barnes said. "He got a little winded and we suffered on the defensive end because of it, but overall Dexter is getting better and he's putting the time in. But again, in the first half, with those experienced guys on the bench, no one stepped up and assumed any leadership and then we missed free throws, which made it an ugly first half."

The Longhorns (11-2) will now travel to Arkansas for one final big non-conference match-up before opening up conference play with Iowa State next Saturday.

Inside the Numbers

The Longhorns finished the night 28 of 63 from the field (44.4 percent), four of 15 (26.7 percent) from three-point land and were 18 of 29 (62.1 percent) from the free throw line. On the other side of the court, the Mountaineers were held to 30.2 percent (16 of 53) shooting from the field, 16.7 percent (three-of-18) from beyond the arc and they shot a miserable 47.1% (eight-of-17) from the charity stripe. The Longhorns outrebounded the Mountaineers 46-35, and beat them in points off turnovers (23-5), points in the paint (40-18), second-chance points (19-8), fast break points (6-4), bench points (27-11), assists (16-7), forced turnovers (17-9), steals (9-4) and blocked shots (8-6).

Star of the game

Pittman was simply unstoppable on both ends of the floor, as he was eight-of-12 from the floor, five-of-six from the free throw line and his changed a number of shots because of his size and length on the defensive end of the court. More than the points and rebounds, Pittman was a go-to-guy for this team to start the game, close the first half and start the second half. As the Longhorns prepare for the start of conference play, Pittman has emerged as a definite weapon for this team.

Unsung hero

I'm going to go with Johnson because his impact on the game was so significant in the context of what happened on both ends of the court. Whether he was blocking/altering shots on defense, attacking the glass or knocking down a variety of shots on offense, Johnson played the part of an impact performer off the bench.

"The only thing that both he and Dexter need to still learn is to get down the floor faster after they make a basket," Barnes said. "Especially in a game like tonight, they put the ball on top of you so well in the perimeter those post guys have to get back. That's a little bit of maturity, but Gary can score and I really thought at the beginning of the year during preseason practice that he'd be right there with Damion in terms of being our probably second-leading scorer and a rebounder. If he'll keep getting better, and he's getting more comfortable, there's no doubt about that. He's much more comfortable."

Could have done without that

After opening up a 20-10 lead with 10:24 remaining in the first half, the Longhorns went more than five minutes without a field goal, as the Mountaineers were able to make a game out of it until Pittman's offensive explosion.

Top three plays of the night

Bronze - Sophomore Gary Johnson blocked a shot on one end and not only ran the court, but put himself into a position to knockdown a rainbow jumper to conclude an excellent sequence that gave the Longhorns an early 15-8 lead.

Silver - Freshman guard Varez Ward ended a five minute drought from the floor by skying to the rim and pulling down a monster rebound and following it up with a lay-up and foul, which he turned into a three-point play.

Gold - Justin Mason started things of with a steal and he then fed a streaking Johnson, who took two steps and threw down a nasty two-handed slam dunk over ASU guard Andre Williamson. It might be an early selection for dunk of the year.

Longhorn Dunk O'Meter

All season long we plan to keep a running tally on which Longhorns are flying above the rim the most. After throwing down four dunks against the Badgers in Madison, the Longhorns came back with five in their home win over the Mountaineers.

Here's tonight's scoreboard:

Dexter Pittman - 3
Damion James - 1
Gary Johnson - 1

Here's the season scorecard:

Damion James - 15
Dexter Pittman - 14
Gary Johnson - 6
Justin Mason - 5
Connor Atchley - 4
Clint Chapman - 4
Alexis Wangmene - 1

The BIG number

3 of 18

The Mountaineers are a good three-point shooting team, but the Longhorns made sure that there was a hand in front of almost every shot on Friday night, as Texas frustrated the ASU guards for 40 minutes of action.

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