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After big first half, Mouton, Texas cool off

4/6/2003

NEW ORLEANS -- The homecoming was almost perfect. Louisiana native Brandon Mouton almost single-handedly kept Texas in the game against Syracuse for the first 20 minutes. The 6-4 junior swingman, who was always told by his dad not to be afraid to take the big shot, scored 15 of Texas' first 17 points.

Texas trailed Syracuse by three points at halftime.

But Mouton cooled off in the second half, scoring just five points as the Horns withered late in the game.

Texas lost, 95-84, in Saturday night's NCAA national semifinals at the Superdome.

"He felt like this was his house," said Texas guard Sydmill Harris, "and he proved it."

For a while, at least.

The performance had to be sweet for Mouton, a guy who took some heat from Longhorn fans last year for his 9-for-32 shooting effort in last season's NCAA tourney, as Texas bowed out in the first round against Temple.

Mouton acknowledged it was a great feeling to shine in his home turf, but said playing well in New Orleans wasn't his ultimate goal.

"Our goal as a team was to win the championship," said Mouton. "The game was good for my friends and family, but that's irrelevant. We came here to win a game."

Unfortunately for Mouton, he couldn't follow his big brother's lead and win the national title. (Last season, Byron Mouton, was a starter on Maryland's championship team.)

After the game. Mouton's teammates said they didn't want to imagine what the score would have been like if Mouton didn't come out smoking.

"We were a little sluggish at first," forward Brian Boddicker said. "We didn't know exactly what we were doing."

Mouton connected on 4-of-5 first-half 3s as Texas rallied from nine points down at one point to trail 48-45 at the half.

"Brandon definitely kept us alive in the first half," said Texas guard Sydmill Harris. "But that's Brandon. He's always the one who gets us going in big games."

With Mouton stroking 3-pointers, the Orangemen had to extend their 2-3 zone, which allowed Texas' freshman power forward Brad Buckman room inside to operate. Buckman, whose career high was 15 points, scored 12 in the first half to help bring the Horns closer.

"Because Moo was so hot, they had to step out," explained Buckman.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim had worried about Mouton going into the game, but said the Orangemen just never had any answers for him in the first half.

"We said, 'Don't let this guy shoot it.'" Beoheim said. "I said that after five minutes, but they didn't really hear me very good. At halftime, I made the point. Him and Boddicker, I worried about coming into the game. (James) Thomas and those other guys I wasn't really concerned about.

"We were worried about those guys. We didn't do a good job on Mouton at all. We did a good job on Boddicker till the end and in the second half I thought we found Mouton a little better. We did a much better job on him. He was just killing us."

Texas coach Rick Barnes said Mouton was one of his team's bright spots Saturday night.

"I'm really happy for Brandon because a year ago everyone made a big deal about him maybe not playing as well as he could," said Barnes. "I'm just happy for him because I know how far he's come. I know how hard he works. Like our whole team, he extremely disappointed. He's so mature. I don't think he ever thought about coming back to Louisiana to play in the Dome. His whole focus has been to do whatever he can do to help this team win a national championship.

"He deserves so much credit for the commitment he's made to himself and the passion that he's gone about trying to get better as a player. I think he'll come back better next year as a young man, he wants it all. I love him for what he's done for our program and our university."

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine