It wasn't always pretty, but the Longhorns proved they can play. Rick Barnes squad beat the 16th ranked (which many experts thought was too low) Illinois team 90-84 in overtime. The highlight for Texas had to be Tristan Thompson, who took advantage of a soft Illini interior for 20 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 6 blocks. That's quite a line. He looked phenomenal on both ends of the floor, showing polished post moves and a great first step on offense, and tenacious shot-blocking ability on defense. Jordan Hamilton also had another great game for Texas, finishing with 25 points and 7 rebounds.
On Illinois' side, they were lead by Demetri McCamey (no surprises there) with 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists. They also got good production out of D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, and Jereme Richmond (who finished with 15, 12, and 11 points respectively).
The Longhorns showed some major flaws tonight. They had stretches where they struggled offensively, often turning the ball over or putting up poor shots while Illinois would go on a run. But the biggest issue--I cannot stress this enough--came at the free throw line. Texas finished 25-44 from the line, a putrid 57%. You cannot win big games playing like that. Frankly, that's all that kept Illinois in the game. Thompson alone was 4-12 and Hamilton was 5-9. How is Jordan Hamilton only 5-9 from the free throw line? Thompson's shot looks hideous: he sort of chucks it at the flat part of the rim, where the ball readily bounces off. But Hamilton is one of the best shooters in college! Certainly he can muster above 60%! Texas needs to get their free throw issues solved, and quickly. Illinois may have not taken advantage, but you can bet Pitt will.
Author's Note: As an aside, Rick Barnes' teams aren't known for great free throw shooting. I'm not sure if he just ignores it, his players don't care, or they genuinely can't convert from the charity stripe. Here are his totals from the last five years: 2010, 64%; 2009, 63%; 2008, 67%; 2007, 68%; 2006, 73% (though this is a little misleading, as J.J. Abrams, D.J. Augustin, and Kevin Durant were all great from the line). Come on Rick. If you want to know why you aren't having much success in March, I'd start right there.
But free throw shooting aside, this Texas team looked very good. There are definitely a few questions, but as long as they're not settling for jumpers (read: penetrating and pounding the ball into Thompson), they are very good on offense. And on defense the Longhorns are aggressive (especially on the shot-blocking front) and scrappy. One of the beauties of this game was the refs let both teams run in the first half (the second half was much uglier and foul-ridden). If Rick Barnes can solve the foul shooting and streakiness kinks, Texas will make me eat my words and be right in the thick of the Big 12 race come March.