AUSTIN, Texas (AP)—Dexter Pittman just needed a little reminder.
He needed to remember all those workouts in the early morning hours—often before any of his teammates were out of bed—and all of the sessions with Texas strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright, which eventually led to him shedding nearly 90 pounds in two years.
It’s all of those recollections that drive Pittman. And it’s finally paying off for the Texas center.
He finished with a career-high 19 points, 15 in the second half, to help the fifth-ranked Longhorns to an 88-72 victory over Texas Southern on Tuesday night.
“I sat down with Coach (Rick Barnes) this week, and he reminded me of all the times I was in the weight room while other people were asleep,” Pittman said. “He said you have to put all that together because I didn’t work for nothing. I worked too hard to get out there and settle for less.”
A.J. Abrams had 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting, but it was Pittman who provided the much-needed spark for the Longhorns (9-1).
Texas never had a lead bigger than seven points in the first half as the Tigers utilized a strong shooting performance from Matthew Miller, who finished with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting.
Texas Southern (0-9) led twice in the first half before the Longhorns quickly regained momentum.
But it was Pittman’s strong second-half performance that helped them eventually pull away over the last 10 minutes of the game. Texas Southern began the second half with a fullcourt press, and Pittman took full advantage of the open spaces down low. He used his 6-foot-10, 298-pound frame to back his way down for easy shots on baseline and dunks over his smaller counterparts.
“I think it’s time for me to step up and be a player, instead of being just a role player,” Pittman said. “The first couple of games this season, I wasn’t showing anything.”
Tuesday night, he showed everyone what he is capable of—including playing a career-high 24 minutes.
“Dexter has worked as hard as anyone I’ve ever coached, and he has to see himself in a different light,” Barnes said. “Dexter has a lot of skill, and he needs to show people he’s more than someone who turns and dunks. We’ve got to let him play and fight through it.”
The teams exchanged baskets at the start of the second half, as Texas Southern seemed poised to stay in contention the rest of the game.
“I felt like everybody was on the same page, and we put ourselves in a great situation,” Miller said.
Then, Pittman and Abrams came alive.
Texas scored 53 points in the second half—31 by Pittman and Abrams—and began to pull away with just over 10 minutes remaining. Abrams was 4-of-8 from 3-point range, and moved into seventh place on Texas’ career scoring list.
Despite Texas’ strong finish, Barnes knows the level of play has to improve soon.
“I look at our team tonight, and I don’t think we’re anywhere near as good a basketball team as we can be,” Barnes said. “At some point, it has to come together.”