DALLAS - With LaMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker in the lineup, the Texas Longhorns were supposed to have an easier time in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Unlike last year when they were without Aldridge and Tucker, the second-seeded Longhorns advanced this time because of the standout duo. But Penn sure made things difficult before Texas finally pulled out a 60-52 victory Friday night.
“P.J. said it best, seeds mean nothing. You got a team today that was going to shorten the game,” Longhorns coach Rick Barnes said. “I’m glad we get to play one more time. ... If we made mistakes, they had a lot to do with it.”
Aldridge and Tucker bailed out the Longhorns (28-6) without much help, including the Texas guards being held scoreless before halftime when Penn led.
In his first NCAA tourney game, Aldridge had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Tucker, the Big 12 Conference player of the year, added 17 points and 12 rebounds.
“We weren’t getting any movement,” guard Daniel Gibson said. “They do a good job packing the middle and stopping things inside. Once we got moving, it was a lot easier to get baskets.”
The Ivy League champion Quakers (20-9) were only down a point and had the ball when coach Fran Dunphy called timeout with 5:53 left.
But Eric Osmundson then missed a 3-pointer, Tucker grabbed the rebound, and Gibson drove for the first of consecutive layups — with Brad Buckman’s blocked shot rebounded by Aldridge in between — to put Texas up 45-40.
“Defensively, we were about as good as we can be,” Dunphy said. “When the separation occurred, we did things that were out of character for us. We had three open looks we didn’t make. We had to have those to beat a team like Texas.”
The Longhorns will play North Carolina State in the second round of the Atlanta Regional on Sunday in Dallas.
Four years ago, Texas advanced to the round of 16 as a No. 6 seed after winning its first two games in the same arena. The following season, the Horns used a weekend in San Antonio as a springboard to the Final Four.
Undersized Penn seemed intent on making it two first-round losses in a row for the Longhorns. The Quakers were unfazed by the crowd filled with burnt orange shirts, and were often deliberate with their shots.
“We were able to control the tempo and get the shots we wanted,” said Mark Zoller, who had 13 points for Penn. “It came down to them making big plays. Those guys are relentless.”
Still, Penn gave its own contingency of only a couple hundred fans so much to cheer about early that they even drowned out the Texas pep band during one timeout. The Longhorns faithful were quietly concerned.
Ibrahim Jaaber, the Ivy League’s player of the year and top scorer, was only 5-of-19 shooting for 15 points.
Jaaber made only two of nine shots before halftime, but his free throw with 6 seconds left gave the Quakers a 23-22 lead.
Gibson was the first Texas guard to score, hitting a 3-pointer to open the second half before David Whitehurst scored a tying basket inside — all in the first minute. The Longhorns finally broke the 25-all tie, and went ahead for good on Aldridge’s breakaway layup with 16:37 left after Tucker rebounded a Penn miss.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
“I don’t know what you guys expect. This is the NCAA tournament,” Barnes told a reporter who asked the coach if he was relieved or disappointed. “If you think there are going to be blowouts, they’re not.”
The Quakers, whose last NCAA win came 12 years ago, finished 17-of-53 shooting (32 percent). They were 10-of-27 on 3-pointers, and only 7-of-26 inside the arc where Aldridge, Tucker and Buckman clogged up things.
Penn was 7-of-25 before halftime — hitting six of 14 3-pointers.
Aldridge, who had 20 points and 16 rebounds in his Big 12 tournament debut in this arena last weekend, got off to a quick start Friday night. He had eight points in the first 9 minutes, and Texas led 9-8 because of Tucker’s free throw.
After Texas went up 13-8, Zoller hit the first of his three 3-pointers before halftime with 8 minutes left. His last with just over a minute remaining put Penn up 22-20 before Tucker penetrated for a layup.
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