By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
KANSAS CITY, Mo. –
At this rate, Texas A&M will be borrowing from its 12th Man tradition and asking students to come out of the stands and suit up.
The Aggies have displayed character, heart, resiliency and any other gutsy adjective you can find in your thesaurus. Ever since senior Derrick Roland suffered a gruesome broken leg a few days before Christmas, Texas A&M has overcome any adversity thrown its way.
In Thursday’s quarterfinal game in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Championship, the fourth-seeded Aggies faced more challenges. Sophomore point guard Dash Harris (right wrist injury) sat next to Roland on the bench; both were in street clothes. Then senior Bryan Davis was limited to 22 minutes because of foul trouble.
Plus, No. 12 seed Nebraska was playing as well as it did in its opening round victory over fifth-seeded Missouri. The Huskers had no sympathy for A&M’s list of woes.
Consider it another case of the Aggies taking care of business against all odds. Texas A&M, with its 70-64 victory, turned back the Huskers’ quest to become the first 12 seed to advance to the semifinals
“This team just keeps doing it and today we did just enough,” Aggies coach Mark Turgeon said.
With Harris sidelined, guards Donald Sloan and B.J. Holmes had to handle the ball more than usual. They each had four assists ... and no turnovers. A&M had 15 assists on its 21 field goals and committed just seven turnovers.
“We have a great team,” said Sloan, who finished with a game-high 23 points. “I think everybody picked up the slack from not having Dash. I think everybody pretty much had it on their mind this was going to be a game that we all would have to play good.”
Nebraska matched that attitude. The Huskers, who shot 55.8 percent against Missouri, made 23-of-46 against the Aggies. The shooting combined with a zone defense that befuddled A&M helped Nebraska make it a close game.
“That's one thing I really love about our team, is that we never did give up, because we could have easily gave up and just said it's all over,” said Nebraska’s Sek Henry, who scored 13. “We gave ourselves a chance to win this game today even though we were down a lot of points.”
Turgeon felt like his team was in control throughout but couldn’t land a knockout punch. In the first half, the Huskers closed to within five points after trailing by 12. The Aggies, who missed eight of their last 11 shots before intermission, went on a 7-0 run to start the second half for a 44-28 lead.
That advantage melted away as the Aggies missed 11 of their next 12 shots against Nebraska’s zone. Ryan Anderson’s 3-pointer made it 49-47 with 9:05 to play.
“We were stuck on 49 forever,” Turgeon said.
Sloan got the Aggies unstuck with a jumper to make it 51-47. Nebraska, though, wouldn’t go away. After getting within one point (54-53), Sloan drained a 3-pointer. When Anderson countered with a basket to make it 57-55, Khris Middleton (season-high 17 points) countered with a 3-pointer to make it 60-55 with 2:51 remaining.
From there, the Aggies held on.
“It’s satisfying to see the team keep playing well and keep stepping up when we need it,” said Harris, who considers himself doubtful to play against top-seeded Kansas. The Jayhawks defeated the Aggies, 59-54, in College Station on Feb. 15.
“We had an opportunity and kind of let it slip by,” Sloan said of the Kansas loss. “This is another chance.”