Mason, Balbay lead No. 6 Texas over Tech 95-83
AUSTIN, Texas (AP)—Leave it to the least likely players to score to give Texas the offensive punch it needed to end a two-game skid.
Justin Mason had 18 points and Dogus Balbay added 13, leading No. 6 Texas to a 95-83 win over Texas Tech on Wednesday night after losses at Kansas State and Connecticut cost the Longhorns the nation’s top ranking.
Between them, the guards usually counted on for defense, passing and rebounding—everything BUT scoring—went into the game averaging just more than seven points.
Opposing defenses had been sagging off both players all season to guard against Dexter Pittman and Damion James on the inside. Until Wednesday night, there was little reason to care if Mason and Balbay were left open.
“Tonight, I thought I’d be more aggressive,” Mason said.
Both of them were.
Balbay took Texas’ first shot and Mason took the third. They combined to shoot 13 of 20 from the floor while still handing out 12 of Texas’ 15 assists.
“We were going to take the open shots. We talked about it before the game— we were going to attack,” Balbay said.
Their scoring also opened up the floor for James, the offensive catalyst for Texas (18-2, 4-1 Big 12) all season.
James finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds to set the Big 12 record for career double-doubles with 48. He scored six straight points in the game-changing run midway through the second half.
Mason scored 13 in the first half on 6-of-8 shooting. Texas Tech (14-6, 2-4) gave him plenty of room to move and the senior quickly found his range with a 3-pointer, short jumper and drives to the basket. Balbay also showed off a seldom-seen shooting touch with a mid-range jumper.
“We backed off them to force them to make plays and they made plays,” Texas Tech coach Pat Knight said. “They are two very good players.”
Balbay also made the defensive play of the game when he recovered after a Texas turnover and blocked a fast-break dunk attempt by Texas Tech’s Theron Jenkins late in the first half.
“No easy baskets,” Balbay said.
Even with those two scoring, the Red Raiders built an early lead. Texas Tech made eight 3-pointers in the first half—the most Texas had allowed in a game all season—and led 50-42 when Nick Okorie hit from long range. Roberson made four 3-pointers in the half.
Texas cut the lead to 50-47 by halftime behind a 3-pointer by Jordan Hamilton and Pittman’s tip at the buzzer.
In the second, the Texas defense pushed out to the perimeter and the Red Raiders attempted just one 3-pointer in the first nine minutes. Mason fed Balbay for a fast-break dunk. Balbay then sliced through the lane for a layup that put Texas up 64-60 with just over 13 minutes to play.
Texas finally created some separation behind James and a 3-pointer by Avery Bradley that put the Longhorns ahead 80-69.
James took over the scoring down the stretch, finding more and more space to move under the basket and grab rebounds. He broke the Big 12 double-doubles record he shared with former Texas All-American Chris Mihm (1998-2000).
“That don’t mean nothing to me,” James said. “It just feels good being on the winning side of the table. I’ll let my mama talk about it. She’ll brag about it to her friends.”
After the two losses, the Longhorns had dismissed any notion their season was at a crossroads heading into the second half of the season. The win keeps Texas within a game of Big 12 leader Kansas.
“Coming into this game, nothing changed,” Balbay said. “We still have the same game plan, still have the same intensity. We’re going to play really hard, every day, every game.”