3-21-08 -- Take a Longhorn or two off the floor, and it still wouldn’t have been a fair fight.
A.J. Abrams scored 26 points for Texas, and he, Connor Atchley and Dexter Pittman nearly outscored Austin Peay on their own Friday in a 74-54 rout of the Governors in the first round of the South Regional. Abrams scored 18 on 6-of-10 shooting from 3-point range, Atchley added 12 and Pittman 11 for the Longhorns.
At 29-6, Texas is now one victory away from matching the school record for wins. The 2005-06 squad, which lost to LSU in the regional finals of the tournament, finished 30-7.
Ernest Fields led the Governors with 14 points, 10 in the second half. Todd Babington added 11.
The victory sets up a second-round game Sunday with former Longhorns assistant Frank Haith, now the coach at Miami. The seventh-seeded Hurricanes (23-10) beat 10th-seeded St. Mary’s 78-64 in the early game Friday.
“It’s my best friend and I love the guy,” Haith said. “I really don’t want to play against him.”
After the bruising the Longhorns gave Austin Peay on Friday, not many teams would.
This had the makings of a rout ever since the pairings were announced.
Austin Peay (24-10) was making just its sixth trip to the NCAA tournament, and first since 2003. It plays in the Ohio Valley Conference, which is about as mid-major as it gets and hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1989. And the Governors are, to put it nicely, on the small side, with no starter standing taller than 6-foot-5.
Texas is, well, Texas, stocked with so much talent that anything less than a deep run in the tournament will be a disappointment. No way the Longhorns were going to struggle like fellow No. 2 seed Duke did on Thursday.
The Longhorns raced out to a 9-0 lead, quickly dismissing any notion that this might be a game. Abrams alone outscored the Governors at one point in the first half. His one-handed runner with 2:57 left in the half gave him a 15-14 lead; the Longhorns, meanwhile, led 34-14.
As impressive as they were on offense, the Longhorns play some pretty nasty defense, too. The Governors missed their first seven shots, not making a basket until Babington’s 3-pointer just over four minutes into the game, and they were flirting with Kent State-like futility with five points in the first 10 minutes.
But they finished the half with a flurry, scoring 10 in the final 2:32. It barely dented the Texas lead—the Longhorns led by 15 at the half—but it kept things semi-respectable.
Then the second half began, and all that was left was the booing.
Barnes had angered Arkansas fans early in the week when he said that if the Longhorns weren’t treated nicely this weekend, he’d back out of their trip to Fayetteville next season. Barnes was joking, of course, but the remarks caused such a stir that he felt compelled to apologize Thursday.
Not that the locals need much to set them off when it comes to Texas.
Arkansas and Texas were fierce rivals in the old Southwest Conference, a border battle that began way back in 1894 on the football field and eventually spread to the hardwood. Colorful basketball coaches and wild games added to the intensity, and the Razorbacks were booed with a vengeance anytime they were sent to Austin for the NCAA tournament.
And while the Southwest Conference is long gone, Razorback fans aren’t about to play nice now. There was a loud chorus of boos when the first burnt orange uniforms were spotted—and that was just the Texas band.
The Longhorns got an even ruder welcome when they came out for pregame warmups, while Austin Peay got a thunderous cheer. The Governors further endeared themselves to the locals when the Austin Peay band led the crowd in a rousing rendition of the “PIG SOOIE” cheer during warmups.
But it’s going to take more than razzing to unsettle the Longhorns in this tournament.