Men's Basketball tops Rice, 77-59
Nov. 29, 2009
HOUSTON -- The Rice Owls were given a big lesson in what teams in the Big 12 already know: Texas' Dexter Pittman is a big man and a force to be reckoned with under the basket.
Pittman scored 21 points, leading No. 3 Texas to a 77-59 win Sunday as the Longhorns held off a second-half Rice rally before pulling away in the final minutes.
"He's a big dude," Rice forward Suleiman Braimoh said of the 6-foot-10, 290 pound Pittman. "We tried to make it hard for him to get to the basket."
There wasn't much Rice could do. Pittman shot 7 of 8 from the field, using his beefy frame to set up under the basket and fight off double teams for 2-footers.
"He used every second he was allowed to be in the lane, I'll tell you that," Rice coach Ben Braun said, a sly bit of sarcasm suggesting Pittman was allowed to sit under the basket too long.
"He's a load. He's a big, hard matchup for a lot of teams," Braun said.
The Owls tried to get physical with Pittman but just didn't have the bodies. Braimoh led Rice with 12 points but gave up 3 inches and 70 pounds to Pittman in the post.
Pittman enjoys it when smaller teams try to get rough inside. The Longhorns (5-0) went to the free-throw line 46 times.
"They threw the first blow," Pittman said, noting a first half that included several hard fouls. "I think I'm the biggest player in college basketball. If I see the refs let it go, I'm going to turn on my physical game."
J'Covan Brown added 15 points for Texas, including two rally-killing baskets in the final minutes. Brown, a freshman, switched his jersey from No. 14 to No. 50 for the rest of the season to honor teammate Varez Ward, who was lost for the season with a thigh injury in pregame warmups last week.
"Varez was a big part of this team. I just felt bad. I felt I had to pick up the slack," Brown said.
Jordan Hamilton finished with 11 points with three 3-pointers for Texas.
Texas' annual trip into the fertile recruiting grounds of Houston was more like a home game. Most of the 4,669 fans in Rice's cozy Tudor Fieldhouse wore burnt orange instead of Rice blue.
Even with the traveling support, Texas struggled to shoot the ball early, missing 16 of its first 24 shots and the first seven 3-pointers. The Longhorns finally created some separation with a 9-0 run midway through the first half.
Avery Bradley, the slam dunk champion at the McDonald's High School All-American game last spring, dunked an alley-oop from Brown before Hamilton made Texas' first two 3-pointers.
Texas pushed the lead to 33-18 before Rice closed to 33-23 at halftime, the first sign the Owls wouldn't be intimidated on their home court.
Pittman scored Texas' first five points of the second and the Longhorns again pushed out to a big lead at 44-27. But Texas shot just 41 percent and the Owls kept chipping at the lead. Emerson Herndon's layup made it 50-40 with 13:19 to play.
Rice finally cut the deficit under 10 when Arsalan Kazemi was left all alone under the basket and dunked. Braimoh made a two nifty moves past Pittman in the lane for two more layups that pulled Rice to 59-54.
Mostly quiet until then, the dominant Texas crowd finally got revved up and started chanting "Texas! Fight!" Rice fans countered with "Over-rated!"
But Rice's offense disappeared down the stretch and the Owls faded with just five points the rest of the game.
"When we closed the lead, we hurt ourselves a little bit. I wish we could have closed that door," Braun said.
Brown finally quieted the Rice fans with a pair of tough shots.
The first was a driving layup, the second a fading jumper from the top of the lane that put Texas up 70-59. After the second basket, Brown turned toward a group of Rice fans and pounded his chest.
"They were playing emotional. They wanted to win," Pittman said. "I think it was a great experience for the young guys to see what it takes to win on the road."