NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP)—On a day when A.J. Abrams was scoring every which way, his little floater in the lane hardly seemed like anything special.
Except it gave him 15 points.
And Austin Peay had 14.
Abrams finished with 26 points for Texas, and the Longhorns put on a dazzling display of balance and power Friday as they overwhelmed Austin Peay 74-54 in the first round of the South Regional.
“When we play somebody of this caliber, as I told the guys, I sometimes lay awake at night worrying about how we’re going to score against people that are that size,” Austin Peay coach Dave Loos said. “Those were the issues today. I do think that if we could have somehow made a couple of shots early, maybe we could have been a little more competitive.”
Four Longhorns finished in double figures—Abrams, Connor Atchley (12) and Dexter Pittman (11) almost outscored Austin Peay on their own. D.J. Augustin dished out eight assists and Justin Mason had a line coaches would love with nine points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Oh, and Texas (29-6) moved within a win of matching the school record for victories.
The victory sets up a second-round game Sunday with former Longhorns assistant Frank Haith, now the coach at Miami. The seventh-seeded Hurricanes (23-10) beat 10th-seeded St. Mary’s 78-64 in the early game Friday.
“It’s my best friend and I love the guy,” Haith said. “I really don’t want to play against him.”
After the bruising the Longhorns gave Austin Peay on Friday, not many teams would.
“That’s the great thing about our team, we know somebody is going to step up every game,” Abrams said. “We’re not counting on one player to go out there and score 30 a game. We have a balanced attack, and we have that chemistry with each other.”
This had the makings of a rout ever since the pairings were announced.
Austin Peay (24-10) was making just its sixth trip to the NCAA tournament, and first since 2003. It plays in the Ohio Valley Conference, which is about as mid-major as it gets and hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1989. And the 15th-seeded Governors are, to put it nicely, on the small side, with no starter standing taller than 6-foot-5.
Texas is, well, Texas, stocked with so much talent that anything less than a deep run in the tournament will be a disappointment. No way the Longhorns were going to struggle like fellow No. 2 seed Duke did on Thursday.
“That’s our coaching staff. They’re not going to let us let down,” Abrams said. “We know what tournament we’re in. All the teams in the tournament are great teams, and you have to keep playing hard every possession.”
But the Longhorns quickly dismissed any notion that this might be a game, racing out to a 9-0 lead. They pushed it to 34-14 on Abram’s runner with 2:57 left, and led by as much as 30 in the second half.
“It’s a tournament. Anybody can be beat on any given day,” said Kyle Duncan, who had seven for the Govs. “But the way they moved the ball today— they were knocking down shots—it’s going to be really tough.”
As impressive as they were offensively, the Longhorns play some pretty nasty defense, too. The Governors missed their first seven shots, not making a basket until Todd Babington’s 3-pointer just over four minutes into the game, and they were flirting with Kent State-like futility with five points in the first 10 minutes.
They finished shooting less than 29 percent from the floor. Ernest Fields led Austin Peay with 14 points, and Babington added 11.
Not even the hostile crowd fazed the Longhorns. Though the fans certainly tried.
Bad blood still lingers in Arkansas and Texas from the days of the border battles in the old Southwest Conference, and Barnes got the locals even more riled up earlier this week. If the Longhorns weren’t treated nicely this weekend, Barnes said, he’d back out of their trip to Fayetteville next season.
Barnes was joking, of course, and he apologized Thursday. But there was still a loud chorus of boos when the first burnt orange uniforms were spotted— and that was just the Texas band.
The Longhorns got an even ruder welcome when they came out for pregame warmups, while Austin Peay got a thunderous cheer. The Governors further endeared themselves to the locals when the Austin Peay band led the crowd in a rousing rendition of the “PIG SOOIE” cheer during warmups.
Once the game started, though, Texas quieted Austin Peay and the crowd.
“I feel bad for these guys because I told them for so long … that this is something that they’d remember the rest of their lives,” Loos said. “I know right now they’re thinking, ‘Gosh, I didn’t know that’s what he was talking about.”’