AUSTIN, Texas (AP)—The shots still aren’t falling for Texas’ A.J. Abrams. The Longhorns still found a way to win.
Instead of the 3-pointers the senior guard usually rains on opponents, it was the mid-range shooting of forwards Damion James and Gary Johnson that carried No. 7 Texas to 75-67 win over Iowa State on Saturday in the Big 12 opener for both teams.
Iowa State purposely dropped off James and Johnson while keeping pressure on Abrams at all times, and they picked apart the Cyclones by knocking down the open looks. James finished with 19 points and Johnson scored 17.
“The team needs an extra boost when A.J.’s getting the toughest defense every night,” Johnson said. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Texas’ leading scorer this season, Abrams finished with eight points, the fourth time in five games he’s been held under 10. He was 2-of-10 shooting, making just one from long range.
“A.J. has struggled. Today was the first day I thought he was really pressing,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said.
The Longhorns (12-3) are undefeated in 11 conference home openers under Barnes and have also won a school record 13 in a row at home in the Big 12, dating back to 2007 when Kevin Durant was a Texas freshman.
The Cyclones have been just the opposite, losing their ninth straight Big 12 road game. Craig Brackins scored 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for Iowa State (11-5) on Saturday, his sixth double-double of the season.
“We had to come in here and play a pretty perfect game to beat Texas,” Iowa State coach Greg McDermott said.
McDermott’s plan was not only to stop Abrams on the perimeter, but for his big players to stay close to the basket to keep the Longhorns from crashing in for offensive rebounds. The Cyclones outrebounded Texas 42-38 but the strategy backfired when it gave the Longhorns the open looks to shoot 55 percent from the field in the second half.
“I’ll take 55 percent shooting any time,” Barnes said.
Johnson was 6-of-9 from the field and James was 8-of-16.
“That’s cool with me,” James said. “We work so hard on our individual game. It was hard to get rebounds.”
Johnson used a variety of moves to score 13 in the first half. He had eight points in a 17-5 Texas run that opened up a 29-16 lead before Iowa State closed to 33-27 by halftime.
The Cyclones quickly cut the lead to one after the break when Justin Hamilton hit a 3-pointer on the first shot of the half and Brackins converted a three-point play. Two dunks by James and a third by Dexter Pittman allowed Texas to hold onto the slim lead.
The Longhorns pushed the lead to 58-47 when Pittman dunked over Hamilton and Johnson blocked a shot and grabbed it to set up Justin Mason’s layup.
The Cyclones wouldn’t let Texas get comfortable. Lucca Staiger twice got lost in the corner for wide open shots before the Longhorns finally put the game away. Two nifty passes under the basket from Varez Ward to Pittman and Connor Atchley led to easy baskets that put Texas up 67-57 with four minutes to play.
Staiger finished with 15 points.