AUSTIN, Texas (AP)—No. 7 Texas was watching its lead slip away with every possession. Joseph Jones was dominating the paint and Texas A&M was disrupting the offense with a trapping defense that bottled up the ball at midcourt.
So Brad Buckman did what needed to be done.
He flopped on a hard drive by Jones. Or took a charge, depending on the split-second decision by an official.
Buckman won the call. And by drawing Jones’ fifth foul with just under 4 minutes left, he pulled off maybe the biggest play in a tough 83-70 win Saturday that kept the Longhorns on top of the Big 12.
“Joseph Jones went off on us,” Buckman said. “He wasn’t missing shots. I had to at least try to do something.”
Jones already had 31 points in leading an A&M rally that nearly wiped out an 18-point deficit in the second half before the Aggies eventually lost for the sixth time in eight games.
“It was fun,” Buckman said. “We never flinched.”
P.J. Tucker notched his eighth double-double of the season with 25 points and 12 rebounds for Texas and Kenton Paulino scored 19 for the Longhorns (19-3, 7-1). Texas also hit 33 of 39 free throws.
The game rivaled the intensity these two schools usually have on the football field.
Tucker set the tone early, muscling over defenders for 12 points and six boards in the first half. On one play, he ripped a rebound from Jones, lowered his shoulder and mowed down another defender before dropping in the layup. Jones returned the favor when he knocked down Buckman on his way to the basket.
Texas needed Tucker’s forceful play near the basket. Center LaMarcus Aldridge picked up two fouls in a 35-second span and spent most of the first half on the bench.
“We knew they were going to come in and be real physical,” Tucker said. “They pride themselves in being the toughest team whoever they play.”
Trailing 35-28 at halftime, the Aggies (13-7, 3-6) rallied behind Jones and the halfcourt traps that harassed the Texas guards.
Jones scored Texas A&M’s first 11 points of the half. Just as important, he drew two critical fouls each on Aldridge and Buckman, sending both players to the bench to soften up the Longhorns’ defense.
With those two out of way, Jones scored at will, rarely more than 2 or 3 feet from the basket.
“I always try to push hard, post up as hard as I can,” Jones said. “We had it in our mind the whole time that we could fight back.”
The Aggies’ constant pressure on the ball disrupted the Longhorns’ tempo. Texas led 60-42 before turnovers and missed shots helped A&M inch closer. Acie Law cut the lead to 61-53 with two free throws with 9:15 to play.
“It was tough for our guards to get through their traps,” Paulino said. “It kept us on our toes.”
Texas appeared to burst the rally when Paulino split two defenders to pass to Buckman, who slipped behind Jones for a two-handed dunk. But the Aggies kept going back to their big man and Jones’ last bucket, a jump hook over Buckman, cut the lead to six.
That’s when Buckman came up with his big play, bending way over backward when Jones lowered his shoulder trying to get past him to the basket.
“Brad’s a great flopper,” Tucker joked. “He flops so much in practice. It was great defense. Joseph had been trying to get the paint every single time. It was a great play in the game.”
Aldridge, who spent most of the game on the bench, then came up with a rebound basket off a missed 3-pointer to push the Texas lead back to 10.
With Jones out, the Aggies couldn’t muster a final rally.
“You’ve got to know they’re going to go on a run,” Tucker said. “We just had to make sure we answered them one at a time.”