Basketball

Texas, Pittman Pummel Appalachian State

It was a career night for C Dexter Pittman as Texas powered past out-manned Appalachian State, 78-43, Friday for its most lopsided win of the season.  

Pittman’s 21 points (8-of-12 FG) and 11 rebounds were career bests as the No. 7/8 Longhorns improved to 11-2. The 298-pounder logged a career-best 26 minutes, giving further evidence that Big Dex now has the stamina to contribute for longer stretches.

Pittman’s three-year conditioning regiment — he has shed nearly 70 pounds since arriving in Austin — has become the stuff of local legend. Yet, the decrease in girth did not immediately translate into an increase in minutes. Here’s the skinny: Pittman has since learned that fatigue has as much to do with mental toughness as it does physical strength.

“I don’t even think about getting tired any more,” Pittman said. “It’s not a mental thing any more. Sometimes you have to play through things. You can’t always give a look at the bench and have the coaches bail you out.”

Not that he hasn’t tried. A couple of times this year, Pittman asked strength and condition coach Todd Wright to give him a breather. Wright refused. The result is that Pittman logged just his third career double-double Friday but his second of the season. In fact, Pittman almost single-handedly gave Texas the separation it needed when he outscored the Mountaineers 10-0 during a 4:21 span that included the closing minutes of the first period and the opening ticks of the final frame. “He should have had more points,” said coach Rick Barnes, seldom effusive in his public praise of players. “We had our most experienced players on the bench with foul trouble. It took them forever to realize they had no one to defend Dexter.”

Four of Texas’ five starters (Damion James, Connor Atchley, Justin Mason, A.J. Abrams) spent most of the first half on the bench. Atchley and James, whistled for early fouls, combined for all of nine minutes during the opening frame. The extra time on the bench was also a collective message that Barnes’ wasn’t entirely pleased with the effort and tempo from his starters.

“No one stepped up and assumed any leadership,” Barnes said. “It made it an ugly half.”

It also made for a golden opportunity for Pittman. His performance aside, the most improved Longhorn this season may be F Gary Johnson. The sophomore has averaged 17.3 points the past three outings after tallying 16 points (6-of-11 FG) Friday to go along with nine rebounds and a career-best five blocked shots.

“I’ve put all my focus on the defensive end,” Johnson said. “That opens up some things on the offensive end. It’s been my main focus to play defense as hard as I can.”

Johnson notched three straight buckets — he added a soaring blocked shot for style points — to launch an early 11-2 run. His highlight reel, two-handed slam was part of a traditional three-point play that spotted Texas a 20-10 lead with 10:24 until halftime. James exploded in the second period and posted his sixth double-double of the season (14 points,13 boards). It was his 27th career double-double, more than any other active Big 12 player.

The Mountaineers could not get their transition offense in gear against the taller Texas defense, shooting just 30.2 percent (16-of-53) from the field while misfiring on 15 of 18 three-point attempts (16.7 percent). Texas has held opponents to an average of fewer than 59 points, and less than 37.2 percent from the field in 11 wins this season. The Horns countered with 28-of-63 (44.4 percent) from the floor, including 4-of-15 from outside the arc (26.7 percent). Texas won the battle of the boards, 46-35, as Appalachian State fell to 5-5.

The Mountaineers switched from man-defense to a 2-3 zone and responded with a 7-0 run. The Horns went 5:16 without a FG until freshman Varez Ward’s old-fashioned three-point play made it a 25-19 contest with 5:08 left. The visitors pulled within four before Pittman took over. His put-back, one-handed slam, a free throw and a jumper gave the Burnt Orange a 32-23 lead at the break.

Big Dex picked up where he left off, notching the first three buckets of the second period, including another one-handed slam. Abrams’ NBA-trey was part of a 19-2 run that made it a 43-23 runaway. Johnson’s put-back pushed the lead to 50-28. Atchley went to the locker room midway through the second period after he was bloodied with a split tongue and busted chin. He was sutured with butterfly stitches, a result that Barnes would take more of a toll on Atchley’s social life than court time. “He won’t be doing any kissing for a while,” Barnes surmised.

Matt Hill’s three-point play, his first FG of the season, expanded the cushion to 55-32 with 10:02 left. Johnson’s driving layup made it a 66-39 route, sending the 7,588 in attendance toward the parking lots with 6:19 left. James’ wicked slam on the dish from Harrison Smith capped the scoring with 12 seconds on the game clock.

Texas’ final non-conference action of the regular season will be at a tilt at surprisingly tough Arkansas Tuesday. The Razorbacks knocked Oklahoma from the unbeaten ranks with a 96-88 win in Fayetteville on December 30. The Horns and Hogs are slated for an 8 p.m. (CST) tipoff in an ESPN2 national telecast.

Video: Texas-Appalachian State Highlights