Commentary

Texas fritters away late-game lead vs. Baylor

Originally Published: February 16, 2008
By Tim Griffin | Special to ESPN.com

WACO, Texas -- The most excruciating look near the Texas bench didn't belong to Rick Barnes or any of his Longhorns players.

As Texas nearly frittered away a 14-point lead in the final three minutes of its game Saturday night against Baylor, the gangly teenager in the Pittsburgh Pirates hat behind the bench took its late-game collapse the hardest.

That tall, skinny fan was Kevin Durant, only a year removed from earning national player of the year honors with the Longhorns. So it was understandable that Durant was showing more emotion as a spectator than during most games with the Seattle SuperSonics this season.

"That one was a hard one to watch," said Durant, who arrived shortly before tip-off and planned to make the 80-mile bus trip back to Austin with his former teammates after the game. "But I was proud that the guys hung on and won. It was good to see them do well."

Durant might be missing. But the Longhorns' moxie without him -- epitomized in their gritty 82-77 victory over Baylor -- showed there is life after losing the nation's best player from last season.

But it didn't keep Texas coach Rick Barnes from making a fervent plea to his old player.

"At the end, I asked him if he wanted to go out there," Barnes said, chuckling. "It was good to see him. He's still very close to these guys. They are some of his best friends. It's special to have him around us."

A balanced Texas offensive attack -- even with a struggling offensive performance by point guard D.J. Augustin -- enabled Barnes to post his 22nd straight victory over the Bears.

But it wasn't easy. Baylor had four possessions to tie try to the score in the final minute, but the Bears could not hit a key shot after making up most of the deficit in a quick, dramatic comeback that fell just short.

"I felt like I was in a bad dream and that anything that could go wrong was going wrong," Texas guard Justin Mason said. "Thankfully, that dream ended good for us."

The Longhorns overcame three turnovers and four missed foul shots during their late collapse, including three misses from the line by Augustin. Baylor scored 12 straight points to pull within 76-74 on a Curtis Jerrells layup with 59 seconds remaining.

After Baylor clawed within 77-76 and got the ball back thanks to a Texas turnover, senior guard Aaron Bruce made an un-senior-like decision. On a baseline out-of-bounds play, he called timeout to avoid a five-second count. Baylor didn't have any timeouts. The Bears were given an automatic technical foul, stripping them of yet another possession to pull ahead of Texas.

"At the end of the game, we didn't get it done from the foul line, and we made it a lot harder than it had to be," Barnes said. "Still, we found a way to get it done."

[+] EnlargeCurtis Jerrells
AP Photo/Nick SimoniteCurtis Jerrells scored 11 points but was called for a bad offensive foul late in the game.

Forward Damion James posted his second straight double-double performance with 19 points and 10 rebounds. And four other Longhorns also scored in double figures as Texas found a way to persevere despite Augustin's continuing to struggle.

Baylor pulled within four on back-to-back 3s by Tweety Carter and Henry Dugat in a seven-second stretch late in the game.

"When they made those two 3s, I was just ready to get this thing over," James said. "But we came through and won, and that's all that matters."

The main reason was a balanced inside attack that constantly muscled Baylor away from the basket. James, Connor Atchley and Gary Johnson combined for 42 points and 22 rebounds as the Longhorns relied on each of them at different times against the weaker Bears' interior.

"Coach told us that as a unit that we should easily be among the best because we have six or seven guys who can score," said James, who has averaged 12.3 rebounds in his past three games. "That's what we are trying to do was come after them."

The 11th-ranked Longhorns (21-4, 8-2 Big 12) claimed their fifth straight win and the eighth in their past nine games. The triumph came despite Augustin's 2-for-12 shooting. He has hit just 8 of 47 shots in his past three games.

But Augustin found other ways to help his team win, providing 10 assists and six rebounds and committing just two turnovers as he keyed Texas' attack.

"Nah, man, everybody gets tired," said Augustin, who missed three foul shots during the late collapse, including the front end of two one-and-one tries. "We're out there fighting, and we just tried to get through it. I've got some great teammates."

Augustin has played all but two minutes in Texas' past five games and has rested a total of seven minutes in the Longhorns' 10 conference games.

"Some people look at D.J. and don't think he's playing that well, but in some ways when he's playing like this, he's making everybody else better," Barnes said. "If he makes his free throws today, I think he's terrific. I think he is anyway."

The loss was another bitter defeat for Baylor (17-7, 5-5 Big 12), which dropped its fifth game in the six since its wild quintuple-overtime victory over Texas A&M on Jan. 23.

The Bears started slowly offensively, misfiring on 25 of their first 29 shots from the field and their first 14 3-point attempts. Usually reliable perimeter threats Jerrells and Bruce clanked all nine shots from behind the arc.

"If I had the answer, I would have changed it," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "I know they were good looks, and as long as we're getting good shots, our guys are good enough players that they're going to make them."

Tim Griffin covers college football and basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.

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