for this game

Texas fends off pesky Texas Southern

Dec 17, 2008 - 4:41 AM AUSTIN, Texas (Ticker) -- Everything is bigger, they say, in Texas. For 25 minutes on Tuesday it appeared Texas Southern had its eyes on a huge upset.

Fifth-ranked Texas needed a second-half burst to put away pesky and determined Texas Southern, 88-72.

The Longhorns (9-1) went on a 20-9 run to break open a 42-41 game and finally put away their winless opponent.

A.J. Abrams scored 27 points, including 12 in a row at one point in the second half, for Texas.

Dexter Pittman added a career-high 19 points, including 15 after intermission.

Pittman keyed the second-half burst as he scored seven points during the Longhorns' surge. The 6-10 junior was 7-of-9 from the field as Texas shot a sizzling 56 percent (33-of-59).

"Dexter has worked as hard as any player we have ever coached," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "He continues to do it.

"I told him tonight that he needs to show people that he's more than a guy who can just catch the ball and dunk it. You get some jump shots and free throws. Believe me, he's going to get those free throws because he works at it. The fact of the matter is Dexter Pittman has got some skill."

Texas Southern, meanwhile, had an even hotter hand, connecting on 30-of-52 shots (58 percent).

"They made some good shots and we guarded pretty well," Barnes said. "They made some shots that I don't think there was anything we could do to take it down. They made at least two bombs out there that was against pretty good defense. They shot the ball the highest percentage they probably shot all year and some of it was against really good defense and some of it wasn't."

The Tigers played tough and didn't cave in until Abrams went on his burst late in the game. The senior guard took over, going for a dozen straight points for Texas as it moved to a 15-point lead with two minutes left.

Abrams hit from all over, making two baskets inside the arc, two 3-pointers and a pair of free throws during the tear. He is averaging more than 27 points over his last five games.

The Tigers were led by Matthew Miller with 21 points and Damian Henderson with 13.

Texas Southern (0-9) made a game of it for the first half, shooting 46 percent from the floor.

"I thought our kids played hard," Tigers coach Tony Harvey said. "I thought we accomplished some of the things we wanted to in the first half. I wanted to limit the looks Abrams got, because I know how good of a player he is and he makes tough shots. I also wanted to limit Dexter Pittman.

"I've got a lot of respect for what Coach Barnes has done here with his program. When I think about Texas I think about physicality and that type of game. I told my players when they came here, that they needed to be ready for that type of game. I wanted us to have a single-digit turnover game. In the second half, it got away from us a little bit. We're learning as a team. We're learning how to compete."

Abrams had 11 points for the Longhorns, including four-point play that gave Texas a shortlived 20-19 lead.

Texas Southern, which will play 15 of its first 16 games on the road, went back in front and led by as many as five points before Varez Ward knocked down a 3-pointer before the buzzer to give Texas a 35-34 lead at the half.

"I just go out there and play hard," said Ward, who had 12 points. "When I'm on offense I just let everything come to me. I don't go looking for shots. I play off the ball well and I played off A.J., and playing with him on the offensive end just opens everything up."