Austin, Texas Texas soon will find out whether P.J. Tucker can play again this season. For now, the Longhorns are relieved to know they can play some pretty good basketball without him if needed.
Freshman point guard Daniel Gibson had 27 points and 10 rebounds, and Texas shook off any distractions about Tucker's future with an impressive 75-61 victory over No. 5 Oklahoma State on Monday night.
Tucker, who spent most of the first half on the bench in foul trouble, scored 15 points in the second for the 15th-ranked Longhorns (14-3, 3-1 Big 12) -- but it might have been his final game of the season.
The team's leading scorer has said academic problems could keep him off the court during the spring semester, which starts today.
Texas coach Rick Barnes and school officials have declined comment, citing federal privacy laws protecting student records. Neither Barnes nor Tucker would talk about it after the game.
Gibson was willing to talk about the challenge of finding players who could step up if needed. The Longhorns played without 6-foot-10 freshman center LaMarcus Aldridge, who is out indefinitely because of a knee injury.
"It really motivated us," Gibson said. "It really gives guys the opportunity to step up and do big things. It was a confidence boost."
Especially for Gibson, who scored 17 in the first half as the Longhorns built a 12-point lead. Tucker's clutch play down the stretch -- he was 9-of-9 from the free throw line -- helped stifle a brief Oklahoma State rally. Texas went 25-of-28 from the line.
The Longhorns hardly missed Tucker when he wasn't on the floor in the first half.
Gibson hit a pair of 3-pointers and routinely snaked through the Cowboys' defense for open shots. He scored six points in a 15-3 Texas run that closed the first half.
Oklahoma State (13-2, 3-1) never seemed to recover from an early cold-shooting spell and foul trouble. Starters Joey Graham and Terrence Crawford both fouled out with more than eight minutes to play.
Ivan McFarlin scored 19 points to lead the Cowboys.
Graham and Crawford both picked up three fouls in the first half and the Longhorns, the highest-scoring team in the Big 12, used quick hands on defense to force 10 turnovers.
Gibson turned two of them into fast-break layups, the second giving Texas a 23-21 lead before John Lucas hit a 3-pointer to briefly reclaim the lead for OSU.
But the Cowboys didn't score again for six minutes and Texas built a 39-27 halftime lead that likely would have been more if not for 10 turnovers of its own.
"He's going to be one of the top point guards in college basketball," Lucas said, referring to Gibson. "He didn't play like a freshman. He played big tonight."
Tucker still had a big role to play.
A 10-0 Oklahoma State run to open the second quickly cut the lead to two, but fouls continued to hinder the Cowboys. Crawford and Graham both picked up their fourth about 20 seconds apart.
Tucker finally did some damage in the second. He ended the Cowboys' run with his first basket, a tough layup in the lane, and Crawford fouled out. Tucker then fought his way around two Cowboys under the basket to fire a sharp pass to Kenton Paulino, whose 3-pointer pushed the lead to 46-39 before Gibson made it a 10-point cushion again with another 3.
"He (Tucker) was the spark that they really needed," McFarlin said. "They kept going back to him and it began to be a big problem."
Gibson made another big play when he stole a pass and drew the fifth foul on Graham with 8:23 to play. Graham, who leads the Cowboys in scoring at 19.1 points per game, finished with 12.
With two OSU starters off the floor, Texas had no trouble maintaining control the rest of the way. Lucas hit a 3-pointer to cut it to 64-58 before Paulino immediately answered from deep in the right corner.
Texas ended a four-game losing streak in the rivalry. Oklahoma State had outrebounded Texas in three straight victories but came up short this time as the Longhorns had a 36-34 advantage on the boards.
"A lot players stepped up and made big plays," Tucker said.
It remains to be seen if he'll get to make any more this season.