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Texas scores one point in the last 5:32 but it was the game-winner vs. No. 18 Tennessee

Having won three straight, Texas ready for Texas Tech. ‘We understand it’s going be a hostile environment, but we think we’re built for this.’

Texas officials went all out to welcome Rick Barnes back to Austin. 

The huge “Thank You Coach Barnes” sign hanging outside the Erwin Center was an impressive start. It was the first thing Barnes and his Tennessee players saw when they got off the bus Saturday.

“Had the chance to see some people that I dearly love to death,” the former Texas coach said. “I’ve kind of grown old with many of them. But it was special; it really was.”

Texas coaches and players wore special shirts, and a pregame video tribute was a special touch. The Longhorns even gave Barnes and his 18th-ranked Volunteers 16 points in the last five minutes or so just make it interesting. Or terrifying, depending on one’s preference for block T logos.

Texas scored just one point in the last 5:32, but it was the game-winner. UT’s Timmy Allen made the second of two free throws with 6.2 seconds left, and Tennessee's Josiah-Jordan James missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. 

More:Thriving at Tennessee, Rick Barnes gets the chance to see former Longhorns, Texas fans

Texas coach Chris Beard, center, and players watch as Timmy Allen shoots a free throw to put Texas up 52-51 with six seconds left in Saturday's game against Tennessee. The Volunteers missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The Horns escaped with a 52-51 win as Barnes’ homecoming went off without a hitch, at least as far as the home team was concerned. Finally, Texas (16-5, 5-3 Big 12) has a win over a Top 25 team and a three-game winning streak. The first sellout crowd (16,540) since February 2016 sure liked it, too.

“We won the game. Nothing disappointing tonight in Austin, Texas,” Longhorns coach Chris Beard said. “That was a win against an NCAA Tournament team with the all-time winningest coach in this program's history coming back. So I don't think there's anything disappointing about tonight.”

Beard shouldn’t expect anything remotely as kind Tuesday in his first trip back to Texas Tech. Out in Lubbock, Tech students were already setting up tents Saturday night to camp out for Tuesday’s game. The atmosphere there will be vicious.

“We’re just focused on ourselves,” Allen said. “You know, there’s a lot of hate, a lot of rah-rah going on about it. But we’re going into the game with one goal. We understand it’s going be a hostile environment, but we think we’re built for this.”

Last Tuesday, Texas not only survived the hostile environment in Fort Worth but thrived in it. On Saturday, Tennessee (14-6, 5-3 SEC) turned the defensive pressure up to full blast down the stretch, and Texas didn’t wilt.

OK, so maybe the Horns muddled through in an unsightly fashion. Allen threw a sensational bounce pass to Andrew Jones for a layup. Courtney Ramey (18 points) swished a 3-pointer in the right corner. Then Allen scored again, and Texas was up 17 points. 

Ramey’s up-and-under move gave Texas a 51-35 lead with 5:32 remaining. Then the Vols got two quick buckets, and James hit a 3-pointer. Suddenly Barnes’ group was back within nine. No worries, right?

Tennessee's Rick Barnes coached in the Erwin Center on Saturday for the first time since UT fired him in 2015. His 18th-ranked Vols lost to Texas 52-51. “I don’t think I could ever say I’m glad it’s over when I’ve had a chance to see so many beautiful, wonderful people that have been a big part of my life,” Barnes said of his return.

Well, Zakai Zeigler hit a 3-pointer. And scored on a driving layup. And then again by piercing the Texas defense for another bucket. Now the Vols were down by two. Then McNeil product Victor Bailey Jr., having a homecoming moment of his own, tied things up with an aggressive layup. Gulp.

“We didn’t do a great job handling the lead,” Beard said. “But I would say that we had some poise and key moments.”

On Texas’ last possession, Allen got the ball about 10 feet from the basket. He tried a turnaround jumper that was no good but got the foul call. He missed the first free throw but made the second after a timeout, giving Texas a one-point lead.

On Tennessee’s last possession, Barnes said, “We couldn’t ask for a better look.” When James’ 3-pointer missed, UT’s Christian Bishop slapped the ball away from the rim as the horn sounded. 

Texas shot 54% and went 7-for-16 from 3-point range. Setting aside the last five minutes, the Horns’ defense was solid. The Vols shot 36% overall and made only 5 of 18 shots from long range. 

“Interesting game, a lot to learn from,” Beard said. “Always better to learn from a win.”

Texas fans cheer on the Longhorns during Saturday's 52-51 win over No. 18 Tennessee. It was the first sellout crowd (16,540) at the Erwin Center since February 2016 ... and potentially the last one, too. This is the final season of the Erwin Center.

Afterward, Tennessee reporters wanted to know about how the second half unfolded. But Barnes couldn’t help himself. He talked at length about coming back to Austin.

“I don’t think I could ever say I’m glad it’s over when I’ve had a chance to see so many beautiful, wonderful people that have been a big part of my life,” Barnes said. 

“You know, I’ve honestly missed seeing Leon Black here tonight. I miss Darrell Royal being here,” he added, referencing two UT coaches who have died. “I talked to Mack (Brown), and I kidded with him and said, ‘We can win the game and I’m going to walk in here with you on FaceTime and let you address the media.’ But I do miss all that. I miss Augie Garrido. I miss those guys.”

Barnes let his grandson, Caleb, sit next to him on the Tennessee bench the entire game. Caleb’s birthday was Friday, and Barnes said, “I just love him to death. He knows he’s got me where he wants me, too.”

Texas guard Marcus Carr tries to pass around several Tennessee defenders during Saturday's 52-51 Longhorns victory. It was Texas' first win over a Top 25 team this season.

Now the story can be told. Barnes has been asked to play Texas before in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, but it never felt right. Maybe he didn’t want to face his Texas successor, Shaka Smart, the past six seasons. But with Beard’s push to “Unite the Family” and this being the last year of the Erwin Center, Barnes felt different. 

“Knowing they’re going to close the building,” Barnes said, “I said we need to do this.”

Maybe Barnes will come back to Austin a bunch of times when Texas moves into the SEC. Maybe by then, this won’t be so emotional.

“We wish those guys the best, and I just want to tell Coach Barnes we love him,” Beard said, “and thanks for everything he did for Texas basketball and really still continues to do.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.

Texas forward Tre Mitchell and his teammates celebrate the 52-51 win over Tennessee.