AUSTIN, Texas (AP)—Texas coach Rick Barnes was leaving his office Friday night when he saw Damion James huddled over his laptop and stopped to chat.
“I feel you’re really focused and ready to take it to another level,” Barnes told his junior forward, who had scored 20 points only once this season and felt the coach’s wrath in harsh words and some minutes on the bench.
“You can really feel it?” James said. “I know I need to.”
James made a huge jump Saturday night, scoring 28 points—including 11 in a row in a key second-half run—to send No. 14 Texas to 67-58 win over rival Texas A&M.
“He works,” Barnes said. “The kid is incredible.”
James hit a low point two games earlier when the Longhorns (14-4, 3-1) dropped their only Big 12 loss at Oklahoma. He had 12 points and was benched for long stretches of that game. Barnes now admits maybe was too hard on him.
“I think I messed Damion up at Oklahoma,” Barnes said. “He’s maturing and it’s fun watching him grow.”
The Friday night chat and a change of philosophy to focus on the positives turned things around. James’ 28 points against the Aggies were one shy of his career high.
Neither team had led by more than five before James started his run. His first basket put Texas up 44-37 and a couple of layups, short jumpers and a rim-rattling dunk pushed the Longhorns’ lead to 52-40 by the time he was done.
“I’m just having fun, and we’re winning,” James said. “If I had done all this and we had lost, I’d have been sad.”
The Longhorns also got 15 points from Gary Johnson in winning their 19th straight at home.
Donald Sloan scored 17 points for the Aggies (15-5, 1-4), who have lost four of their past five. The home team has dominated this rivalry of late. Neither team has won on the road since Texas won at College Station in 2004.
The two worst shooting teams in the Big 12 played like they couldn’t miss in the early going. Both teams were knocking down long and mid-range jumpers before James and Texas A&M’s Chinemelu Elonu got involved a series of big dunks that charged up the rivalry atmosphere.
Elonu finished a fast break with an alley-oop dunk that James answered with a two-handed jam moments later. Texas’ next bucket came when A.J. Abrams floated a soft pass that James finished with another slam for a 26-23 Texas lead. The Longhorns led 30-28 at halftime.
The second half was still tight until James started his run with a layup and free throw with 11:22 to play. Less than 30 seconds later, Texas A&M’s Josh Carter made a 3-pointer to keep the Aggies’ within four and kept the Longhorns within striking distance.
Not for long. James was just getting rolling.
Two free throws and a slashing reverse layup after a Texas A&M turnover kept the Aggies from creeping closer and brought the sellout home crowd to its feet. Another alley-oop dunk, this time on a pass from Varez Ward, put Texas up 52-40. At that point, James was gassed and actually took himself out of the game for a breather.
“We did everything we could defensively,” Sloan said. “A couple times, he just rolled over our smaller guards makes shots. That was the difference tonight.”
The Aggies, who shot 36 percent in the second half, couldn’t muster any kind of an answer. The Longhorns pushed the lead to 13 twice, the first when Connor Atchley finished a three-point play and again at 60-47 with 1:44 left.
“We have trouble scoring,” A&M coach Mark Turgeon said. “Everyone knows that.”
Texas needed James and Johnson’s ability to strike from just about anywhere on the floor. Abrams, Texas’ best 3-pointer and career leader, was held to 0-for-2 shooting from long range under the defensive lockdown provided by the Aggies’ Derrick Roland and Dash Harris.
Abrams remains three shy of the Big 12 career record of 338 3-pointers held by Kansas’ Jeff Boschee (1999-2002).