Texas scored on its first four possessions early in overtime to go up eight and gain a lead that they would not let go in beating No. 16 Illinois 90-84 on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
Two baskets from Texas’ leading scorer Jordan Hamilton and defensive stops led by Dogus Balbay propelled the Longhorns in overtime to a big early season win.
Led by Hamilton’s 25 points and freshman Tristan Thompson’s 20, the Longhorns did not falter after letting a nine-point second-half lead slip.
After scoring the first nine points in the second half, the Longhorns were unable to hit a field goal during a seven-minute stretch late in regulation. The drought was snapped with Cory Joseph making a shot from the left elbow with 24 seconds remaining in regulation to give Texas a two-point lead.
Illinois quickly responded with an inside basket from freshman Jereme Richmond, which forced the overtime period after Joseph was unable to make the last second attempt.
The Illini were able to creep back into the game with the Longhorns making only 25 of 44 free throw attempts.
The game, which ended in a hard-fought free throw-filled battle, started as a high scoring slugfest.
The scoring barrage started for Texas with Hamilton contributing for 11 of the Longhorns’ first 13 points.
Hamilton both attacked the basket and converted from behind the three-point line to rack up 15 first-half points off of six for eight shooting.
While Hamilton began the game hot, Thompson was the one who stole the show to close the first half.
Thompson, who received the first start of his young career, got his first two points of the game by taking the ball from the top of the key and around a defender to the basket for a dunk as the shot clock ran down.
All 12 of the freshman’s first-half points came within the 10-minute mark as he continued to post up against the taller Illini defenders and find a way to score.
Behind Hamilton and Thompson, the Longhorns were up eight points, but the Illini answered with seven three-pointers to tie the game entering the break.
In addition to Thompson’s 20 points, he racked up nine rebounds, three assists, six blocks and two steals.
With the win, the Longhorns advance to play fourth-ranked Pittsburgh tonight in the finals of the 2k Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden.