ATHENS, Georgia (Ticker) -- T.J. Ford found a different New York audience to thrill than he did over the summer.
Ford scored 22 points and had a pair of key baskets in the final three minutes as fifth-ranked Texas rallied for a 77-71 victory over No. 16 Georgia in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
Ford, who led the nation in assists as a freshman last season, played a pickup game in fabled Rucker Park in Harlem in July. He wowed the hard-to-please crowd with some playground moves despite getting chided by the on-court public-address announcer for not being able to shoot.
"It's the same experience," Ford said of playing in Madison Square Garden for the first time. "Wood here, tar there. I love New York fans, I love New York. They are going to be honest. You can't fault them for that."
Ford's play helped rally Texas (1-0) from a 10-point deficit in the second half and stave off a late rally by Georgia. He nailed a tough fallaway jumper for a 71-64 lead with 2:36 remaining after the Longhorns held possession for 79 seconds thanks to a pair of offensive rebounds.
Georgia (0-1) pulled within 71-69 when Ezra Williams nailed a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left. Ford patiently ran down the shot clock and made a tough inside hoop to restore a four-point lead with 29 seconds left.
He proved that he worked on his shooting by making 10-of-19 from the field while handing out eight assists.
"He's gotten stronger, he's worked on his shooting," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "He could care less if he even shot the ball. Tonight he played with a great deal of passion."
"Those shots he made were just spectacular," Longhorns center James Thomas added. "This is the best I've ever seen him play."
Ford also displayed some toughness after taking a nasty spill in the first half. He lay motionless for nearly a minute before he was assisted off the court, only to return a few minutes later.
The Bulldogs took a 46-36 lead on a three-point play by Rashad Wright with just under 17 minutes remaining before the Longhorns rallied. Brandon Mouton scored seven points in a 15-2 run that Ford capped with a layup for a 51-48 lead with 13:26 to go.
Texas continued to soar thanks to reserve Deginald Erskin, who had 10 of his 12 points in the second half. Thomas was limited to four scoreless minutes in the first half due to foul trouble but finished with eight rebounds as the Longhorns held a 39-36 edge on the glass.
The Bulldogs played without two frontcourt starters in Steve Thomas and Chris Daniels. Thomas is academically ineligible in the first semester and Daniels served a one-game suspension for playing in an unsanctioned summer league game.
"They exploited us a lot (inside)," said Georgia coach Jim Harrick, who was whistled for a technical in the final seconds. "But I have Chris Daniels and Steve Thomas, who started for us last year and they're fine players."
Williams led Georgia with 20 points and Damien Wilkins, a transfer from North Carolina State, had a strong debut with 16. Wright added 15 points, but the trio combined to make just 5-of-21 shots in the second half for 22 points.
Mouton sealed the win with four foul shots in the final 16 seconds, including two on Harrick's technical. Barnes told Ford to shoot, but he instructed Mouton to go to the line to "help his confidence."
It was one final assist that won't go on the stat sheet for Ford, who had a request for the New York fans.
"Maybe they will show respect for Houston," Ford said, referring to his hometown.