The Aggies, struggling to remain relevant in the NCAA Tournament picture, were mired in a three-game losing streak. The perfect remedy in desperate times: Texas.
A&M did what it has done for the last five home games against the Longhorns, mixing urgency and energy into an 81-66 victory
“We know for a fact … it happens every year. They played harder against us than anybody they play,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “And that’s a fact. I’ve got the tapes to prove it.
“I told my guys that if we don’t play as hard as we can play, it’s a big mistake on our part. And we didn’t.”
A&M center Bryan Davis, one of five Aggies in double figures with 15 points, didn’t dispute Barnes’ theory.
“The situation coming into the game and it being Texas, that explains it all right there,” Davis said. “We always play tough against them.”
Texas A&M (18-8, 4-7 Big 12) led by seven at halftime and expanded the lead to 19 with just under 13 minutes remaining in the game.
The question all season for Texas A&M revolved around who would be taking – and making – big shots.
The answer against Texas: everybody.
The Aggies shot 51.9 percent in the first half and 49.1 percent for the game.
Donald Sloan (14 points) helped spark a 24-10 run to open the second half.
Guard B.J. Holmes forestalled Texas from getting any momentum, connecting on back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the second half.
When Texas made a run and cut the margin to four on a free throw by Damion James with 7:45 remaining, Chinemelu Elonu and Davis worked inside to draw fouls and grab offensive rebounds.
With the loss and No. 2 Oklahoma headed for a Saturday showdown in Austin, Texas (17-8, 6-5) could easily play itself back onto the tournament bubble.
“It was a huge game for them,” Barnes said, “but I thought it should have been a huge game for us.”
Said A&M coach Mark Turgeon: “We had to have it. That’s an understatement.”
Going into the game, Texas seemed to have found the right lineup combination, moving Dogus Balbay to point guard and freeing everybody else to move back to their natural positions.
It worked well against Oklahoma State and Colorado.
It might have succeeded against Texas A&M had the Longhorns been able to keep the lineup on the floor.
A&M attacked Balbay’s defense at the beginning, with Sloan getting to the rim at will. Add two quick fouls, and Balbay played just nine minutes in the first half. He finished with five assists and three turnovers against the Aggies.
A.J. Abrams had enjoyed little success against the Aggies. In eight previous games against A&M before Monday, he had made 21 of 62 shots (33.8 percent) while averaging 9.6 points.
Hounded by waves of A&M defenders led by Derrick Roland, Abrams missed his first four shots and didn’t score until 16:17 remained in the second half.
Barnes and Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon said they noticed fatigue in Abrams, who played 45 minutes Saturday at Colorado.
“He stopped running off the screens as hard,” Roland said. “I tried to beat him to the spot. I guess his teammates started looking other places.”
Abrams finished with a season-low seven points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Energetic Texas A&M hands Texas an 81-66 shock (Dallas Morning News)