AUSTIN — One painful streak was going to come to an end on Saturday inside the Frank Erwin Center, and young-but-talented Texas made sure its head-shaking rough stretch was the one that came tumbling down.
The Longhorns took advantage of a punishing inside game and a flurry of Tech mistakes to earn a 73-57 win, their first in Big 12 Conference play this season after an 0-5 start.
The Red Raiders, meanwhile, lost their 17th straight game in Austin and fell to 9-9 overall and 2-5 in Big 12 games.
“We knew it was going to be tough coming in here,” Tech coach Chris Walker said, “and they certainly made it tough for us. They played physical ... and we didn’t make a couple of defensive toughness plays that I thought would have been very beneficial for us.”
Tech had hoped to capitalize on the momentum created by an upset win of Iowa State on Wednesday, and in the early stages of the game against Texas, the Red Raiders traded blows with the bigger, more physical Longhorns, taking an 11-10 lead eight minutes into the contest.
But that was Tech’s last lead, as the Texas size began to pay dividends. Cameron Ridley, a 6-foot-9, 270-pound bulldozer, made his mark with nine first-half rebounds, and forward Ioannis Papapetrou scored 15 points.
Nothing came easy for Tech inside on either end in the first half, and the Red Raiders trailed 35-24 at intermission. When Tech found space near the rim, it struggled to finish, shooting only 31 percent in the period.
“Cam set the tone we wanted early,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said of Ridley, who made a statement in the first half by racing the length of the court and rejecting a Tech layup attempt.
Ridley, a McDonald’s High School All-American last season, added: “We definitely wanted to take advantage of our size in the post.”
The Red Raiders won the rebound battle — 36-30 — for the second consecutive game, and Walker lauded his team’s 17 offensive rebounds. But Texas enjoyed a 38-22 edge in paint points.
Texas frontcourt players weren’t solely responsible for that advantage, though. The Longhorns found plenty of easy offense by turning 19 Tech turnovers into 22 points.
“It’s basically impossible to win when you do that,” Walker said, “when you’re a team like ours that struggles to score at times, especially on the road. If you turn it over 19 times and they get 22 points of that, it’s going to be hard to win.”
For portions of the game, Texas used a trapping, full-court press, which Tech point guard Josh Gray (six points, two assists, three turnovers) said gave the Red Raiders some problems.
“They got a couple of turnovers off that,” Walker said, “but that wasn’t the gist of it. It was our turnovers on offense, just not making smart plays.
Tolbert did his best to keep Tech in the game during the second half, when he scored 15 of his 18 points. He scored 10 during an eight-minute stretch, crashing the paint and cleaning up a handful of misses at the rim.
“It was good to see him have that bounce in his step,” Walker said.
It was Tolbert’s second strong performance in as many games. During that stretch he’s begun to show the form that made him one of the league’s most productive freshman a season ago.
“It was a matter of taking my time,” Tolbert said, “being more patient.”
Tolbert’s motor kept churning, and when Jaye Crockett — who struggled offensively for the second straight game — hit a 3-pointer with 7 1/2 minutes to go, the lead had been cut to 52-44.
But two possessions later Papapetrou hit a 3-pointer to push the lead back to 13, and the Red Raiders didn’t climb within single digits the rest of the way.
Tech will have a week to regroup before hosting West Virginia on Saturday.
“All we can do is turn around and go hard in practice,” Gray said. “All we can do is get back to work.”
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