AUSTIN -- Texas A&M's basketball season of elevated expectations and extended goodbyes in Big 12 arenas hit its latest speed bump Wednesday night at the Frank Erwin Center.
Texas and its collection of heralded freshmen became the third consecutive team to keep the Big 12 co-favorites winless in league play. The Longhorns knocked off A&M 61-51 in the Aggies' final visit to Austin before A&M joins the SEC next season.
The Longhorns (12-4, 2-1 in Big 12) erased A&M's lone lead of the second half with a 7-0 run that began with a three-point play by freshman Julien Lewis (team-high 16 points) and ended with a steal and breakaway layup by freshman Sterling Gibbs.
When A&M clawed back within five points, Texas guard J'Covan Brown salted the game away by making 10 of 10 free throws in the final 5:25.
A&M (9-6, 0-3), which lost its 10th consecutive appearance in Austin, finds itself winless in league play heading into Saturday's game against Texas Tech after being selected as the league co-favorite, along with No. 10 Kansas, in the Big 12 coaches' preseason poll.
Lewis, who was 3 of 3 from 3-point range, helped spark the Longhorns on a night when Texas won despite being outrebounded 33-26 because the Longhorns made several key defensive stops.
"Obviously, Julien played huge minutes for us," said Texas center Clint Chapman, who finished with 11 points and a team-high seven rebounds. "Between making shots and locking players up, that's where he helped us win this game."
For Lewis, the performance put an end to a recent shooting slump that had seen him make just 9 of 41 shots in the Longhorns' last six games. Lewis said he "put in some extra time" in recent shooting sessions to rediscover his shot, and the effort paid dividends.
For A&M, it was another night of missed layups and missed free throws (8 of 16) that frustrated first-year coach Billy Kennedy.
"We've got a long way to go to get to where we need to be to win some games in this conference," Kennedy said. "I thought we competed the way we need to compete with our effort... But you've got to make simple plays when you get opportunities on the road. We didn't finish plays. And they are great defensively."
Considering the historic overtones of the evening -- the contest marked A&M's last scheduled game in Austin in football or men's basketball for the foreseeable future -- the atmosphere was subdued. With school not in session, the student attendance was down and the arena had lots of empty seats.
A group of fans under one basket flashed the only sign of the night that referenced A&M's impending departure to the SEC. But they held it aloft all night, bearing the words: "Don't let the door hit you on the way out!"
Otherwise, it was all about basketball. And mostly about Lewis, who Kennedy called "a big key" to the Longhorns' success on a night when Brown, the team's leading scorer, was just 2 of 12 from the field.
"Lewis was a big key," Kennedy said. "We did a good job on Brown, but he stepped up."
A&M, meanwhile, took another step back in the standings while the Longhorns leaned on Lewis and got solid minutes from freshman guard Sheldon McClellan (7 points, 1 assist). The bench contributed 24 of Texas' 61 points.
"It was a good win for us," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "From a team standpoint, every guy that played for us played really hard. That's the way we want it done."
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760