Basketball

Longhorns Win Big 12 Opener on Big Shooting Day from James, Johnson

The Texas Longhorns topped Iowa State 75-67 at the Erwin Center Saturday to win their conference opener thanks to impressive shooting performances from a pair of Texas forwards.
Box Score

Iowa State challenged the Longhorns to shoot and shoot they did.

Facing a larger and more athletic Texas team, the Cyclones packed their defenders down low and gave up enough space for Gary Johnson and Damion James to take mid-range jumpers.

“That was a chance we had to take,” said Iowa State head coach Greg McDermott. “We’re relatively young and inexperienced inside at a couple spots and to provide some help on the block we chose to see how well those guys could shoot it from the mid-range level…and they made us pay for it.”

James had 19 points, Johnson had 17 and both shot 50 percent or better in the win.

“I work so hard on that 15-foot shot every day,” said James. “If they’re going to back off I’m going to take it every time.”

It was a big shooting day for Texas (12-3, 1-0 Big 12) in general, with the Horns making 45.9 percent of their shots (28-of-61), including 55.2 percent in the second half (16-of-29). Texas head coach Rick Barnes said the low block-focused Iowa State (11-5, 0-1) defense made it hard to get rebounds, but then again rebounds aren’t as important when the shots are going in.

“When they’re packed back in there that far it is tough to come up with offensive rebounds,” said Barnes, “but I will tell you this, I’ll always take 55 percent shooting from the floor.”

While it was an unusually high shooting day for the Texas front court — center Dexter Pittman also contributed 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting — in was an unusually poor shooting day for the Texas back court. A.J Abrams was only 2-of-10, including hitting just 1-of-5 from three-point range, and finished with eight points.

Abrams said that he doesn’t have anyone to blame but himself for his last two performances (Abrams was also 3-for-16 in a loss to Arkansas) and that he’s got to take advantage of the opportunities he’s given.

“That’s what it comes down to. My teammates are doing a good job of getting me open, I’ve just got to knock down the shot,” said Abrams.

Justin Mason, meanwhile, was a modest 3-of-7 but hit only one of eight free throw attempts.

Problems at the line are not unusual for the 2008-09 Longhorns. Texas is hitting 63.8 percent of its free throws on the year and made only 57.1 percent of their free throw attempts (16-of-28) Saturday…which could have been an issue if the Cyclones hadn’t made only 58.3 percent of theirs (7-of-12).

Iowa State did put in a solid shooting performance from the floor, hitting 38.8 percent of shots (26-of-67), but it wasn’t enough to counter the shots made by James and Johnson.

“When A.J.’s getting the toughest defense every night, when Damion’s getting the toughest defense every night, somebody has to step up and take on the challenge for this team,” said Johnson. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Texas is now 11-0 in Big 12 home openers under Rick Barnes. With the win the Horns now turn their attention to Oklahoma. On Monday night, the Longhorns will travel to Norman to take on star forward Blake Griffin and the No. 6 Sooners.

Despite some inconsistencies in the last few ballgames, Abrams said he and his teammates are prepared for the tough road trip.

“We’re ready. If we can just keep playing defense and rebound the ball, the offense will take care of itself,” said Abrams.

Texas takes on Oklahoma at 8:00 p.m. CST on Monday. The game broadcast will be on ESPN. Rick Barnes’ post game thoughts: Audio: Rick Barnes after the win over Iowa State Run time: 12:40