AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Facing a team without its head coach and mired in a season-long downward spiral, it would have been easy for No. 25 Texas to expect an easy victory.
Far from it. Instead, the Longhorns had to slug out an 87-81 win over Texas Tech on Wednesday night behind Damion James' 20 points and 11 rebounds, his fourth consecutive double-double.
"We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game with their coach out," Texas senior guard A.J. Abrams said. "I bet they had some extra motivation to play harder."
The Big 12 suspended Red Raiders head coach Pat Knight for one game for criticizing the officiating in their previous loss. Associate head coach Chris Beard called the plays, made the substitutions, requested the timeouts and nearly had enough to pull off an upset.
Instead, Texas Tech lost its fifth straight and for the ninth time in the last 10 games.
"I was really proud, but I did want to try and pull it off for Pat," Beard said. "I know Pat will be proud when he watches the game tomorrow."
Texas (19-8, 8-5) may have trouble figuring out just what to make of this one.
On the one hand, the Longhorns have won four of their last five after a three-game losing streak. They also struggled on their home court to put away a team mired in a bad season despite coming up just a point short of their season high. The Longhorns played without forward Gary Johnson, who is averaging 12 points a game. He twisted his left ankle last weekend in Texas' win over Oklahoma.
"Believe it or not, this team is used to close games and this time of year I think you're going to be in close games," Texas coach Rick Barnes said.
Abrams scored 24 points and Dogus Balbay added 11 points and five assists. Balbay keyed the second-half run that allowed Texas to take the lead after going into halftime trailing 43-38. In his five games as a starter, he has 33 assists and nine turnovers.
The Red Raiders (12-16, 2-11) made six 3-pointers and shot 56 percent in the first half. Those shots started rattling out of the rim in the second.
Texas grabbed the lead with a 14-7 run early in the second half. Balbay, who is usually Texas' fifth option to score, had six points in the run, slashing through the Tech defense for layups, including a drive straight down the lane for a 51-50 lead.
Every time Texas seemed to be on the brink of a game-breaking run, the Red Raiders reeled them back in. Texas built a 64-58 lead only to watch Tech scratch back to pull even with a 6-0 run.
When Abrams hit his fourth 3-pointer, Nick Okorie answered with one and Mike Singletary's two free throws kept Tech within 75-73 with 4 minutes left. Okorie led the Red Raiders with 24 points.
What Texas Tech couldn't do was keep Texas off the free throw line. The Longhorns went 31-of-43 and were led by James, who was 12-of-15.
James was much better from the line than the field on a 4-of-10 shooting night.
"I just had to do what I had to do to help my team win tonight," James said. "I shot poor from the field, but it was OK."
At halftime, Texas retired the No. 35 of Kevin Durant, who spent only one season with the Longhorns but was the national player of the year as a freshman in 2006-07.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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