For most of the season, Jordan Hamilton and Rick Barnes have had as much common ground when it comes to basketball as Julie Andrews and James Hetfield would have had on music.
When Jordan Hamilton hoops, it appears as though he's listening to The Sound of Music. Rick Barnes coaches like he's jamming to the guitar riff from Master of Puppets on a loop. But success is often all the common ground you need, and quite simply, when Jordan Hamilton is in the ballgame, the Horns straight up ball.
I don't know what Jordan's plus/minus stat looked like tonight. Plus/minus is the net points a player is worth when he's on the floor. What I do know is that the Horns were down double digits when he came in to the ballgame in the first half with 13 minutes to play and Texas rallied to cut OU's lead to 40-38 at the half. In the second half, Jordan came in with 15 minutes to go and the Horns were once again down double digits. Texas ended up winning the ballgame 87-76.
Using the eyeball test, Texas is a different basketball team with Jordan Hamilton on the floor so I'm not interested in CPA-ing his minutes to death. What I am interested in is smiles. For the first time in two months, I saw all 5 Texas starters and players on the bench smile after a Longhorn barrage that included two oops, one to Hamilton from J'Covan and one to Pittman from Damion. I could have sworn I saw Barnes switch his ipod from Master of Puppets to a Scorpions love ballad. It didn't keep him from not starting Hamilton in the second half, but I'm counting on the soothing tunes of "Still In Love With You" to change Rick's mind when we go to Waco.
On to the players.
Jordan Hamilton. Your most valuable player gets top billing this game. Here's Jordan's statline, 28 minutes 5-7 from the floor, 2-3 from deep, 11 rebounds, 1 steal and 12 points. What's lost in those eye popping numbers is the effect Jordan's floor presence had on the rest of the team. Damion James had room to take a slow-footed 4 off the dribble. Dexter Pittman didn't see quick double teams allowing the senior to absolutely work Tiny Gallon. James and Pittman were a combined 13-22 from the field and 12-16 from the line with most of those points coming when Hamilton was getting minutes spreading the floor for his Longhorn teammates.
Look, here's the deal, Hamilton is the best shooter, best ball handler vis a vis his defender, second best rebounder, best passer, and third best shot blocker on this squad. If he's not playing, Texas is losing ground. For him to be benched for five minutes starting each half robs an already skittish team of any shot at positive momentum and confidence to begin games or second halves. We simply can't make this mistake going forward. Jordan has to play right away, and quite frankly, he shouldn't come out unless he's vomiting on Vasherized's shoes in the front row. Unleash this kid yesterday.
Damion James. Two doses of good news for the ultimate warrior. First, he found most of his 8-14 success going to the goal. A lot of those opportunites came as a result of Hamilton and Brown spreading the floor. Secondly, Damion was a confident 8-12 from the foul line and it looked like the hybrid forward was seeking out contact to get to the line. I can't emphasize the importance of Damion doing damage at the line enough. As this team grows offensively, he'll have an abundance of plays where he's able to take plodding fours off the dribble. There isn't a four in the country that can defend him at the arc and then stay in front of his power dribble to the goal when he's in triple threat position. But if he doesn't hit his throws it doesn't matter. Great game for Damo.
Dexter Pittman. This was the ideal box score for the big fella. He was 5-8 from the field, 4-4 from the line, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 assists, 1 block and 14 points in 25 minutes. Dex is a difference maker at the 5 spot, especially when he's surrounded by players that pull their weight offensively. I expect more of the same from Dexy the rest of the year considering the emergence of Hamilton.
J'Covan Brown. The kid played a terrific game as a lead guard. He took 3 bad shots as far as I could tell on his way to 4-8 from the field. Those are numbers you can live with when you drop 5 dimes and play solid defense on Tommy Mason Griffin. If we can get this production from Brown going forward, the floor will continue to open up and James, Pittman, and Johnson will be the beneficiaries.
Avery Bradley. The kid has hit a wall, but in this game foul trouble cost him getting into the flow. As a catch and shoot guy, he too will benefit from a spaced floor with the emergence of Hamilton and Brown. Plus, we have to have him on the defensive end. He can take most guards out of their game when he's staying in front of the dribble. So athletic.
Gary Johnson. Again, Johnson gave us energy and confidence off the bench. More importantly, I thought he did a terrific job tagging Cade Davis after the first half shooting explosion. Not bad for a four man against a small forward. Johnson also dominated the glass opposite James and Pittman because he was matched up with Crocker and Davis. But still, Gary continues to play well in what is officially the Scipio frontcourt...James, Hamilton, and Johnson.
Justin Mason. The Sooners refused to guard him and Mason took the bait, taking horrible midrange jumpers and missing layups. Mason really needs to drive and defer, then guard on the other end. That's it. You're not Jameer Nelson, bro.
Jai Lucas. The garden gnome played well on offense but there weren't any covers out there for him on defense so hence the 7 minutes of playing time. It's Keaton Paige or don't play at this point for Jai. I'm not sure Baylor has a player he can guard.
Alexis Wangmene. Roberto Duran hands means you're nothing more than a defensive specialist. His athletic size is intriguing. I would have thought Clint Chapman could have gotten minutes in this game. But who knows?
Overall, a big win that was tougher than it should have been. Rick, I implore you, shorten the bench and then sink or swim with Hamilton and Brown. They're ready. Don't make me compare you to an overrated heavy metal band again, because next time I'm going with White Lion.