James had another big game Wednesday, scoring a career-high 29 points and grabbing 14 rebounds as Texas beat TCU 67-59. He also swatted five blocks and made the defensive play of the game as the Longhorns snapped a two-game losing streak. James had his seventh double-double in nine games.
In short, it was the type of dominating performance Durant made look routine last season on the way to being named national player of the year.
"He's confident right now. He's playing great," said guard D.J. Augustin, who scored 20 points despite missing much of the first half with foul trouble. "He's really feeling it."
The game was also the season debut for freshman forward Gary Johnson. The Longhorns' top recruit hasn't played while doctors monitored an unspecified heart condition discovered last summer. Finally cleared to play, Johnson started and had five points and five rebounds in 21 minutes.
Johnson's presence allowed James to move away from the basket and he showed a deft shooting touch by going 3-of-5 on 3-pointers. They were key baskets as the Longhorns played without injured shooting guard A.J. Abrams.
"I never look to score. I look to rebound," James said. "With Gary in the game, it allows me to roam a little more."
Henry Salter scored 19 points to lead TCU, which hit 12 3-pointers. He made five 3s and the last one with 51 seconds left got the Horned Frogs (8-5) within six before Texas put the game away.
With Abrams out and Augustin in foul trouble, Texas was forced to go deep into its bench early. Walk-on Ian Mooney, who usually plays at the end of early season routs, played 14 minutes. James carried Texas early, hitting six of his first seven shots for 18 points as Texas led 34-32 at halftime.
The Horned Frogs kept making 3-pointers. Two straight turnovers by Texas and three consecutive 3-pointers by TCU put the Horned Frogs up 41-37 just over a minute into the second half.
James and Augustin then ripped off 11 straight points to give Texas the lead for good. Augustin sparked the run with two dazzling layups and a breakaway bucket for a 48-41 lead.
Texas built it to 10 but couldn't get another big run to put TCU away. The Horned Frogs got within 59-54 on Keion Mitchem's 3-pointer and cut the lead to 3 on Jason Ebie's two free throws with just under four minutes left.
James made the defensive play of the game when he got a fingertip on a TCU pass and then tossed the ball behind him as he nearly tumbled over the scorer's table. Texas quickly passed it to Augustin for a 3-pointer that put the Longhorns up by six.
"I'm not sure where he came from. I know he covered an awful lot of ground," TCU coach Neil Dougherty said. "That pretty much put us too deep to recover."
After TCU turned the ball over without a shot, Mooney grabbed a big rebound off a miss by Augustin that gave Texas another 35 seconds as time was winding down.
Mooney, who surprisingly turned into a defensive stopper, scored on his only shot and didn't have a turnover.
"Maybe I'm stupid," coach Rick Barnes said. "Ian Mooney did exactly what we're begging three or four other post guys to do. You expect your scholarship player that you recruited to do that, to buy into that role. He went out there and did exactly what we need."
Johnson, who had been allowed to practice, was cleared to play last week and will wear a heart monitor all season.
Texas badly needs his muscle, both in scoring and defensive rebounding. The Longhorns were dominated in the paint in consecutive losses to Michigan State and Wisconsin and Barnes complained they aren't physical enough near the basket.
That changed against the Horned Frogs. Texas outscored TCU in the paint 18-6, won the rebounding 40-31 and held the Horned Frogs 33 percent shooting. TCU could grab only eight offensive boards.
Johnson made his first shot, an easy layup, but then missed almost an identical shot when Texas went right back to him the next trip down the court. He picked up his first foul before grabbing his first rebound.
"He's going to help us out a lot. He's tough on defense," Augustin said.