<
>

Pittman, Hamilton lead Texas to 13-0 start

AUSTIN, Texas -- It's not very often a coach calls a win a "huge step backward."

Texas coach Rick Barnes was disappointed, though, watching his No. 2 Longhorns stumble and misfire their way through a 76-70 win over scrappy Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Saturday.

"I don't think at any point in time I thought we were going to lose that game, it was just really disappointing," Barnes said. "We took a huge step backward. Lack of effort, lack of concentration."

Harsh words for a team off to one of the best starts in school history. Texas (13-0) had been very impressive through the first six weeks of the season, winning the first 12 games by at least 11 points, including big victories over North Carolina and Michigan State.

With that run, Texas was probably expecting to cruise right into Big 12 play.

Instead, the Longhorns can expect some tough practices and more stern comments from Barnes after shooting 35 percent and getting outrebounded 47-37 against an opponent that should have been the latest blowout victim.

If not for 25 turnovers, the Islanders (5-7) may have may have had a chance to pull off the upset.

"We played terrible. Point blank," senior forward Dexter Pittman said. "We're better than that."

Pittman scored 18 points and Jordan Hamilton scored 17, but the rest of the Longhorns were targets of Barnes' criticism.

Even Damion James, who got his fourth consecutive double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, left too many boards for the taking, Barnes said.

Kevin Palmer scored 28 for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (5-7), which cut the lead to 74-68 with 36 seconds left before Hamilton made two free throws.

"They're used to beating people by double digits. We stayed with them the whole time," Islanders forward Demond Watt said. "The turnovers killed us. If we cut down on those, we might have pulled out this game."

Texas started slow and struggled to shoot the entire game. Freshman guard Avery Bradley went 0 for 8 from the field.

Barnes said the Longhorns let their poor shooting affect everything else, from defense to rebounding to ball handling. Texas made 7 of 25 3-pointers and 23 of 33 free throws. Point guard J'Covan Brown had six turnovers against two assists.

"We've got guys who can shoot the ball if they don't go mental," Barnes said.

The Longhorns missed 12 of their first 15 shots before Jai Lucas kick-started the offense with a 3-pointer. Hamilton followed it with another 3-pointer and Texas made five shots in a row to break the shooting slump with a 17-0 run.

It wouldn't last.

Two dunks by Gary Johnson put Texas up 37-21 before Texas A&M-Corpus Christi rallied to cut the lead under 10 on two 3-pointers from Palmer and Marcus Hammonds.

Texas' shooting struggles returned in the second. The Longhorns missed 11 of their first 13 and turned the ball over on a shot-clock violation. The Islanders cut the lead to 44-38 when Palmer was left wide open in the left corner for a 3-pointer.

Texas couldn't find the late run to put the game away. The Longhorns built the lead back to around 10 points, only to have the Islanders battle for rebounds and loose balls and make timely shots to keep it close.

The Longhorns seemed to finally get some breathing room when a layup by Lucas made it 61-47 with 7:12 to play, but Palmer struck again with another 3-pointer and six straight free throws.

What the Islanders couldn't do was make a charge at taking the lead. Brown hit a 3-pointer and a layup by Pittman with three minutes left gave Texas a 71-60 lead that was just enough to hold off the Islanders down the stretch.

Pittman said Hamilton, Bradley and Texas' other new players can expect tough games like that the rest of the season.

"I'm kind of thankful this game kind of happened," Pittman said. "The young guys could get a taste of what it's like in the Big 12."