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January 18, 2014

Longhorns pull away, beat No. 8 Iowa State 86-76

Texas and Iowa State were even at 36 at halftime, but in the second half the Longhorns (14-4, 3-2) were the ones that pulled away in impressive fashion to beat the No. 8 Cyclones (14-3, 2-3) 86-76. In what was probably Texas' most impressive win of the season, the Longhorns beat the Cyclones in ways that have become hallmarks of this team.

1) Jonathan Holmes' performance could easily take up all 10 points of this column because it was that impressive. In 31 minutes on the floor, Holmes played some of his best basketball in a Texas uniform. He scored 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting with seven rebounds (three offensive) two blocks and one steal.

However, it was Holmes' effort, toughness, and want-to that fueled Texas' second-half run. There was a stretch in the second half that any rebound near Holmes was going to be his, and he showed off his offensive game with face-up jumpers in the mid-range areas, layups near the rim off of dribble-penetration, and athletic put-backs after misses. Basically, he was a man possessed.

Holmes is one of the leaders of this basketball team, and he showed that today against a very good team, and led his group to its biggest win of the season. In a matchup that looked on paper like Texas would have the advantage with its big men, Holmes, along with Cameron Ridley, made sure Texas did by wearing down Iowa State with tremendous toughness and effort.

2) Texas was plus-five on the offensive glass in the second half, but it felt more like plus-15. It seemed like Iowa State couldn't grab a rebound during stretches in the second half while the Longhorns got the offensive rebound and put it back in.

And a lot of those buckets pumped a bunch of energy from the crowd into the team, like Ridley's monstrous, two-hand dunk to give Texas a 57-51 lead in the second half with 10:51 remaining.

"We do it every day in practice. When we get into the game, it's like second-nature," said Holes about offensive-rebounding.

3) Rick Barnes got a very complete effort from his team. After not playing last game, Kendal Yancy played 10 minutes in the second half, and played solid defense, grabbed a couple of important rebounds (six in the game), and made a few big hustle plays. Demarcus Holland didn't score much, but he was a big reason why DeAndre Kane, Iowa State's star point guard, shot 3-of-12 from the floor and turned it over seen times. Martez Walker gave Texas nine solid minutes off the bench. Prince Ibeh didn't play much because of matchups - Iowa State played a very small lineup most of the game - but blocked a shot, grabbed a steal, and made two free throws in four minutes.

"This was a great win for us, no question," said Barnes after the game. "I really think that it was a really great win for us. We didn't have one guy that didn't go in the game and make a contribution."

Basically, everyone played and everyone contributed in some capacity. It was a very complete performance by Texas.

4) After failing to work the ball into the big men in the paint and missing on chances to get those guys touches in the first half, the Longhorns did a much better job of that in the second half. Early, guards dribbled around the perimeter too much, didn't space well, created poor passing lanes, and missed windows to feed the paint. That improved a lot in the second half, and was one of the reasons why Texas was able to pull away. Plus, Texas adjusted to Iowa State's quick and aggressive double-team of any post player that touched the basketball.

"Yeah. The first half we didn't really get the ball inside like we wanted to, but our guards were playing very good," Ridley said about working the ball into the paint. "Before the second half in the locker room coach Barnes stressed we had more size and to take advantage of it."

5) This was a game when Ridley needed to attempt at least 10 field-goals or 10 free-throws. He finished with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the line with 11 rebounds and five blocks.

To sum it up: the sophomore was an animal and one that seemed to take joy in asserting his physical dominance on a smaller lineup. It seems like his confidence and ability both grow each game as he becomes more and more comfortable.

6) People might look at Isaiah Taylor (1-of-7) and Javan Felix's (5-of-17) shooting and fail to realize how good they were, particularly in the second half. Both guys helped control the pace of their offense very well, attacked aggressively, and combined for just two turnovers and seven assists. Plus, Taylor hit on 9-of-12 free-throws and Felix knocked down all four of his attempts.

When these two guys aren't turning the ball over, are getting to the line, and are aggressively attacking, good things happen.

7) Speaking of turnovers, Iowa State entered the game ranked No. 17 nationally in percentage of makes by an assist and was the No. 3 team in lowest turnover percentage.

Against Texas, Iowa State committed 18 turnovers while the Longhorns committed only eight. Once Texas settled in, it did a nice job of keeping the ball in front of it on defense around the perimeter, rotated well, and challenged or chased shooters off the three-point line at a pretty good rate. Plus, Texas' pace seemed to speed up Iowa State and force some very sloppy turnovers, including a stretch of five-straight as a result of three traveling violations.

"I think we had really good on-ball defense today," Holmes said about why the defense was able to frustrate Iowa State. "We kept our man in front us. "Usually they're really good at getting by the first guy, making the second guy help, kicking it, and shooting it. We didn't allow them to do that today. So, it was hard for them to get into the flow of their offense. By doing that, we were able to rattle them a little bit and get some of those turnovers."

Iowa State shot just 39.3 percent overall and 34.4 percent from deep.

8) There was a stretch (9:45 to 5:08) of time in the second half when I felt like Texas' toughness and effort completely wore down Iowa State. The Cyclones shot their way back into the game some, with some help from Texas' poor "drain-the-clock" half-court offense, but it became clear during that stretch that the Longhorns were playing with more effort, with more toughness, and wanted the game more.

9) Barnes is doing a heck of a job with this group. He's getting the most out of them, they're responding to scouting reports/adjustments, and are a confident bunch that is showing improvement.

10) All of a sudden, this Texas team is starting to play much more consistent, is settling in, and is playing with a lot of confidence right now. This is a team that expects to win each time it steps on the floor, and you're seeing that confidence right now. As long as the Longhorns continue to play with this kind of effort and focus, they can make some noise in what is the toughest conference in the country.

Confidence and chemistry can go a long way.

"Mentally, I think we are the same, but after the Oklahoma State game we knew we had stuff to improve on and that was our focus going into practice," said Felix after the team's mentality now compared to earlier in Big 12 play. "We were still confidence and we were still together. We never put our heads down. We feel like we're as good as anybody when we put our best on the floor."

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