For the second time in just five days, the Longhorns were the hated enemy in a sold-out, hostile gym. But as has become the norm this season, Texas fed off the negative energy and silenced the fans, emerging from Gallagher-Iba Arena with a 61-46 victory.
The win was the fifth on the road for the Longhorns, who have tripped up just once away from home this season. In early December, Texas was embarrassed by an average USC team in Los Angeles, losing by 17 points. Since then, the Horns have been undefeated on the road, winning by an average margin of 14.2 points.
With the victory, the Horns keep their perfect conference mark intact, moving to 5-0 in Big 12 play. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, dropped to 2-4 in the conference, falling into a tie for 9th place with Kansas State.
What looked good
The most-hated Longhorn in Stillwater wasn’t Jordan Hamilton or Tristan Thompson. Instead, it was Dogus Balbay, who responded to the jeers by having a career night. Balbay more than doubled his scoring average, putting in 10 points, all in the first half. Along with Cory Joseph, the Turkish guard also prevented OSU’s sharpshooting Keiton Page from even scoring a point.
Balbay’s hustle was visible everywhere on the court Wednesday night. He grabbed five boards and had four assists in the winning effort, and constantly batted away Oklahoma State passes. Even with most of those deflections ending up out of bounds, Balbay still came up with two steals.
As it has been all season, Balbay’s staunch defense was just one part of Texas’ stifling performance on D. As a team, the Longhorns held Oklahoma State to 32.1% shooting from the field and limited the Pokes to only 0.793 points per possession. Coming into the game, OSU was averaging roughly 1.04 points each time down the floor.
Freshman big man Tristan Thompson worked through a difficult first half and ended up with a very productive night. He scored all 14 of his points in the second half, including a seven-minute stretch where he scored 11 straight points for Texas. On defense, he frustrated the Cowboy bigs with three blocks.
Another reassuring sight in the win was the clear effort Jordan Hamilton and J’Covan Brown were making in looking for open teammates. In addition to his 12 points — all coming behind the arc — Hamilton was credited with two assists. When not taking open threes, he was attacking off the dribble and looking for open teammates as the defense collapsed on him. If not for fumbled passes by other Longhorns, Hamilton would have had another few assists.
Brown, meanwhile, seemed to be quite aware that it wasn’t his night to shoot. Although he forced up a bad three near the end of the first half, he mostly played within the flow of the offense. After a few misses, he was content with passing off to other guards coming off of screens and curls. His deferential attitude didn’t result in any assists against Oklahoma State, but it is definitely preferable to poor shot selection.
In addition, the alternating big games from Matt Hill and Alexis Wangmene continued, with the big man from Cameroon providing the quality PT against the Cowboys. Wangmene played just 11 minutes, but worked hard inside and earned two trips to the line, which he turned into four points. He grabbed a pair of rebounds as well, and only turned it over once, on a bobbled one-time pass from Hamilton.
What needed work
Unfortunately, the Texas offense was very sloppy with the ball in the first half, particularly in transition. The team’s 23.7% turnover percentage was its third-highest of the season, behind only the neutral-site loss to Pitt and a very sloppy win against Lamar.
With Missouri coming to town on Saturday, that lack of ball control in high-tempo situations is cause for concern. The Longhorns may have won this one by 16 points, but had they simply held on to the ball, the margin of victory likely would have crept past twenty. The Tigers are going to push the tempo and pressure the ball, so Texas cannot afford to have a repeat performance on Saturday.
In the half-court, Oklahoma State was very committed to limiting Texas’ points in the paint, and that often led to double- and triple-teams when Thompson and Gary Johnson would get the ball in the lane. When they would manage to put up a shot against the army of defenders, there was never an orange jersey anywhere near the rim.
Not only did this cost Texas a bunch of offensive rebounding opportunities, but it also meant that Thompson and Johnson had very few options to dish it off when OSU collapsed. With the Cowboys focused on the ball, Texas could have capitalized with easy layups by players cutting from the wings, and it would have resulted in more putbacks on Johnson and Thompson’s missed jumpers.
Next up: vs. #13/11 Missouri (17-3 overall, 3-2 Big 12); 8 P.M. CT, Saturday