James leads No. 2 Texas past No. 9 Michigan State
AUSTIN, Texas (AP)—Texas coach Rick Barnes told his team last weekend that a victory over one Top 10 team didn’t convince everyone that the second-ranked Longhorns are for real.
Maybe beating two in four days will sway the holdouts.
Damion James had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Texas pulled away from No. 9 Michigan State in a 79-68 victory Tuesday night, giving the Longhorn consecutive wins over Top 10 teams after beating No. 10 North Carolina on Saturday.
James, who followed 25 points and 15 rebounds against the Tar Heels with another monster outing, proclaimed himself the “heart and soul” of the Longhorns (11-0) afterward and warned whoever else might still be doubting Texas.
“Like we didn’t prove anything against North Carolina,” James said. “We took that to our workout, and let’s go prove how good we can be.”
The Longhorns hadn’t played a ranked opponent before last weekend but now have impressive wins over two of the nation’s best. And like the lesser teams to face Texas before them, both the Tar Heels and Spartans couldn’t hang within single digits by the final buzzer.
Chris Allen had 12 points for the Spartans (9-3), who couldn’t beat Texas for a fourth straight year.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo lamented his team’s 22 turnovers and the Spartans lacking concentration and size on defense.
“We looked a little fatigued and not hungry enough,” Izzo said. “I didn’t feel very good.”
For anxious Longhorns fans awaiting the BCS championship game, this big Texas win may tide them over until Jan. 7. Texas football coach Mack Brown looked on as the Longhorns trailed 37-34 at halftime, and quickly started chipping away at the deficit.
J’Covan Brown hit a corner 3-pointer with 12:58 left to tie the game at 52. James gave the Longhorns the lead back seconds later, hitting a floater in the lane to put Texas ahead for the first time since the first half.
From there, the Longhorns slowly pulled away—then abruptly put the game out of reach. Gary Johnson stripped the ball from Spartans point guard Korie Lucious at halfcourt on consecutive possessions with under 4 minutes left, both leading to fastbreak dunks and a commanding Texas lead.
It was a record-breaking night for James, who became the school’s all-time leading rebounder, surpassing James Thomas. James, who was 10 of 18 from the field, has 1,087 rebounds.
The 6-foot-7 senior forward, who said he was “50/50” after last season about deciding whether to leave for the NBA, said he hasn’t peaked yet.
“I’m not even playing my best basketball right now,” James said. “And that’s what’s scary.”
Jordan Hamilton had 14 points, including four 3-pointers, for the Longhorns, who now have a week off before a last stretch against Gardner-Webb, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Arkansas takes the Longhorns into their Big 12 schedule.
Before beating North Carolina, the Longhorns feasted on lesser foes. Texas beat the Tar Heels in the vast enormity of Cowboys Stadium, in the first basketball ever played at the home of the Final Four in 2014.
Back home at a raucous Erwin Center, a small cluster of Michigan State backers briefly stole the show: officials stopped the game for several minutes so police could confiscate an airhorn from a Spartans fan who tried shirking away from her seat but was allowed to stay.
But as the second half wore on, the Spartans had less and less to cheer about.
Playing consecutive games against Top 10 opponents for the first time in a decade, the Longhorns hit 7 of 16 from behind the 3-point arc and shot 59 percent from the field in the second half.
Barnes tried tempering the excitement of beating two Top 10 teams.
“I told them it’s great. It’s December,” Barnes said. “I said if this is as good as we’re gonna be, we’re in trouble. We’ve got a lot of room for growth.”