First off I've got to say I can't remember a more whiny son of a bitch than Mark Turgeon. On no less than 6 occasions, Turgeon could be found inside the arc as a ball is being inbounded complaining to an official about a call. This douchebag makes Kelvin Sampson look reserved by comparison. Getting beyond the train wreck that was TAMU coaching etiquette, I thought the game was played predictably well on the defensive end of the floor. Each team was able to dictate tempo on the defensive end effectively, until Rick Barnes decided to go to an even smaller lineup in the second half to spread the floor. The smaller group of Ward, Abrams, Mason, Atchley, and James was a huge boon for Damion James specifically, allowing the talented wing to take Bryan Davis off the dribble at the four spot or pull up for uncontested jumpers. Defensively, the Horns were able to do an unbelievable job rebounding the basketball with their small lineup, mitigating any size advantage the Aggies might have had. The Horns ended up outboarding the Ags 35 to 27 including 7 more offensive rebounds.
On a macro-level, it appeared the Horns have indeed decided to make their small, spread the floor personnel group the core of their identity as a basketball team. Sure Dex and Hill come in to play matchups and provide depth, but it's apparent to anyone watching that Barnes has handed over the car keys to his talented wings Damion James and Gary Johnson instead of going to an interior centric attack with Pittman and Chapman. If Texas can continue to rebound out of this smaller lineup then all the better. On to the players.
AJ followed up a solid shot selection ball game with another really good game tonight. Unless you're Dickey Simpkins you won't mistake AJ for AI, but Abrams did some nice things off the dribble tonight with 4 dimes. His modest 10 field goal attempts were anything but Iverson-esque. Defensively, AJ played a whale of game finding himself guarding TAMU's talented wing Josh Carter for the better part of the ball game. Barnes' strategy to have AJ on Carter with help coming from a variety of sources was not only interesting but effective in holding the gunslinger to just 8 attempts. AJ's quickness was key here and give him credit for defending with passion.
Following up a great second half against ou and a good offensive game at Tech, Damion James came to play tonight in a big way. The hybrid forward took advantage of mismatches throughout the night taking bigs like Bryan Davis off the dribble and shooting over undersized wings like Josh Carter. This has been the idea all along. James needs to continue to be aggressive on the offensive end because he's a mismatch the second he steps on the floor. Credit Barnes for realizing DJ is at his best when the floor is spread and he's given a two way go depending on his defender. When James is placed in a big plodding lineup, he's relegated to roaming the perimeter seeking out midrange J's because he can't take bigger defenders off the bounce or back down smaller wings when the key is congested with low block players. Lift the baseline in a half court setting and DJ can showcase his explosion to the goal or the back to the basket power game he developed his freshman year.
Connor continues to play like a shell of the player he was last season or the season before, but the 6-10 senior showed flashes tonight attacking the glass and driving to the cup. His defense on Elonu and Davis was Connor Atchley caliber and he helped the Horns win the battle of the boards. He needs to see the ball go through the net a time or two from distance, and when he does this offense can be really be good.
Mason was able to play solid defense on Roland for the most part but Justin continues to play tentatively on the offensive end. He did have 3 dimes but they were offset by 3 brutal turnovers. I'll continue to say it, Mason needs to be off the ball to attack the glass and the basket to be the player he can be. When JM's on the ball, he's as uncomfortable as one of Scipio's dates trying to figure out Sting references.
Gary Johnson continues to reward Barnes for making GJ one of the top options. A 6-14 night with 6 foul shots is a productive one against an TAMU frontcourt with a size advantage. Defensively, Gary really did a solid job on Davis all night. When GJ got caught in a switch to Elonu, he didn't give up anything easy. I'm really excited about this kid's future.
Dogus does what Dogus does. He's going to come in and run the show. He'll get people the ball where they need the ball when they need the ball. Defensively he'll check your ass all over the floor with quickness and strength. His rebounding, 5 boards in 17 minutes, is gravy.
I thought Varez gave the Horns some key minutes when they put him at 3 in order to bump DJ to the 4. Not only was Ward able to effectively guard Carter, but Damion was the beneficiary of some mismatches against Bryan Davis. No turnovers means he earned more minutes next ballgame.
Hill once again was an energy guy off the bench. He came in and grabbed two boards, set some hard screens, and gave the Horns some big fouls. He's becoming more of piece than the stick to Barnes' carrot.
Dex had a disappointing game considering all of the point blank looks he got tonight. His 2-5 should have been 4-5, but still he pulled 3 offensive boards, took 5 foul shots, and had 7 points in 7 minutes. Dex needs to understand that he can't continue to squander point blank bunnies if he wants more playing time. The train's leaving the station.
While Turgeon was playing official, Barnes was pulling levers like the Wizard of Oz. The move to shadow Carter with AJ paid big dividends in limiting catches for TAMU's most talented perimeter player. Offensively, Barnes' personnel moves allowed James to find room to maneuver inside and out against a pretty solid Aggie defense. All in all it was about as routine a win as a team can have against a bitter rival. It's certainly a win a team like Texas can build on. Especially a team that's testing its new identity.
Also, please see awiggo @ BON for his wrap up.