AUSTIN, Texas (AP)—Damion James was aching to get off the bench. Baylor could only wish he had stayed there longer.
Benched at the start after a bad game in a blowout loss a few days earlier, James scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds as No. 10 Texas rallied to an 80-72 victory Saturday, the Longhorns’ 21st straight win over the No. 25 Bears.
Replaced in the lineup by Dexter Pittman, James didn’t stay on the bench for long, logging 34 minutes. His 11 points in the first half helped pull Texas (17-4, 4-2 Big 12) out of an early 14-point deficit, then he delivered several big baskets and rebounds as the Longhorns put the game away late.
The only Longhorn averaging double figures in scoring and rebounding, James said he expected to be benched after he was heavily criticized by coach Rick Barnes for his poor defense in a loss at Texas A&M.
“I deserved it,” James said. “It worked out. Me coming off the bench I think gave us a spark.”
Barnes said he had warned James he would be tough on him.
“I told him, ‘You know I love ya,”’ Barnes said. “If sitting you down is what it takes to get your attention, it’s about holding you accountable. … Sometimes sitting down is helpful, but he didn’t sit for long.”
Baylor (16-4, 4-2) has been one of the surprise stories of the season and came in ranked in consecutive weeks for the first time in school history, before leaving with their second straight loss.
“We have to get that fight and hunger back that we had before these two losses,” said forward Kevin Rogers, who led Baylor with 20 points.
This one had to be bitter considering how the Bears let another big lead against the Longhorns get away.
Baylor had a 20-point lead against Texas in the Big 12 tournament last season before losing and led 31-17 midway through the first half of this one. Texas hasn’t lost to Baylor since the 1997-98 season.
“Hopefully we’ll get them one day,” Bears guard Curtis Jerrells said. “We always give them a chance, then we give them the game.”
Texas looked disorganized while Baylor built the early lead. Patience with the ball and better shooting helped the Longhorns cut the deficit to 38-34 by halftime with James hitting two 3-pointers in the rally.
“He really responded. He was flying around making some athletic plays,” Barnes said. “He responded great and there was no reason to sit him down.”
Texas took its first lead, 41-40, on Connor Atchley’s 3-pointer from the top of the arc early in the second half. Baylor coach Scott Drew then drew a technical foul for complaining about a non-call on a missed shot. Abrams made both free throws for a 46-43 lead, then swished a 3 from deep in the right corner.
The game escalated into a tense, rock ‘em, sock ‘em affair from there as the teams traded dunks and big baskets.
Rogers and James had rim-rattling dunks and a large contingent of Bears fans in the upper deck of the Erwin Center desperately chanted “Let’s Go Baylor!”
Longhorns fans drowned them out with chants of “Texas fight!”
Atchley hit another 3-pointer from the left wing and James hit a tough short jumper over two defenders in the lane for a 69-61 lead with just under 5 minutes to play.
Baylor cut the lead to four three times in the last three minutes but couldn’t make the push to get the lead or at least get the game into overtime.
“This shows what kind of team we are,” said Texas guard A.J. Abrams, who had 20 points. “Being down is not that big a deal.”