One Step Toward Houston
Swatting Cinderella: Thompson baffles Benson as Texas eases by Oakland in NCAAtourney
TULSA, Okla. — Keith Benson spun left, twisted right. He tried to duck and sidestep — unleashed a desperate array of moves.
But everywhere Oakland University's 6-foot-10 center moved, Tristan Thompson was there. In one telling sequence, Thompson simply stood tall and blocked Benson's shot back into his face with the simplest of flicks.
That's how you swat away Cinderella. With Texas' über-talented freshman big man playing arguably the best game of his career, the fourth-seeded Longhorns eased by 13th-seed Oakland 85-81 in its first game of the NCAA tournament. Thompson finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and most importantly, more than a half-dozen blocked and altered shots in a BOK Center game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicates.
In the process Thompson all but undressed Benson. The big man from the little school in the suburbs of Detroit came into the game as a borderline first-round NBA draft prospect. By the time Thompson was done with him, you almost had to wonder if he could even play in the Big 12.
Or maybe Thompson is simply that good. He certainly looks like the difference-maker the Longhorns didn't have last March.
Texas lost in the first round of the NCAAs last year and hasn't made it out of the second round since 2008. For most of the second half it looked like the first step in Tulsa would be a breeze, but a late Oakland (25-10) rally made Texas sweat a little late. Still, the Longhorns (28-7) move on to play the Arizona-Memphis winner on Sunday for a Sweet 16 berth, which would place them one step closer to Houston.
It's easy to think that Thompson is now Texas' best player since Kevin Durant. Benson did finish with 15 points and 11 rebounds, but most of those numbers came in the second half with Texas firmly in control.
Jordan Hamilton (19 points, 10 rebounds) and J'Covan Brown (21 points, 12-for-12 from the free-throw line) gave Texas many more options than the Golden Grizzles.
NCAA tourney berths are expected in Texas. For Oakland, they're celebrated like a national holiday. A bus of students left the Oakland campus at 4 p.m. Thursday and didn't arrive in Tulsa until 10 a.m. Friday, just in time for the 11:15 a.m. tip.
The Golden Grizzlies' cheering section was much more vocal than a late-arriving Texas crowd that settled in across the court at the cozy Bok. Talent trumps enthusiasm though.
Oakland came into the game as the second highest-scoring team in the country (85.6 points per game) and the Golden Grizzlies dared the Longhorns to run with them. But it was the team from Michigan that had trouble keeping up.
Thompson grabbed three offensive rebounds in the first three minutes, a few right by Benson. Just like that the tone was set. Before long Thompson was beating everyone down the floor as Texas built a 29-19 lead.
Thompson had five blocks in the first half alone as Benson (3-for-6 in the first half) struggled to even get shots off. In fact, Oakland's outside shooters — Travis Bader and Reggie Hamilton — kept the Golden Grizzlies in the game.
Texas never lost its grip. The Longhorns kept beating Oakland with strength and quickness. At one point early in the second half, a loose ball led to a 3-on-1 UT fast break. It was a double-digit Texas lead for most of the second half.
Oakland pulled within 80-75 with 69 seconds left, but after a Barnes timeout, Texas regained its cool and closed out the game with little drama. Certainly nothing close to the angst suffered by a losing Louisville and a barely-scraping-by Kentucky in Thursday games against No. 13 seeds. The four-point final margin was as close as Oakland ever got in the last 30 minutes of the game.