By Wendell Barnhouse | email@example.com
KANSAS CITY, Mo. –
Why not us?
That could be Texas A&M's motto at the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men's Championship. The Aggies, picked as co-champions with Kansas in the preseason, had a crash and burn season and wound up as the No. 9 seed.
But a workmanlike effort coupled with two game-clinching 3-pointers means Texas A&M's season will last at least another day. The Aggies knocked off No. 8 seed Oklahoma, 62-53, in an opening round game.
Texas A&M (14-17) advances to Wednesday's quarterfinals and will face top-seeded Kansas (26-5) at 2 p.m. at the Sprint Center.
"You build momentum in tournament play," Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said. "If you don't win the first game, you don't even feel like you've been in the tournament."
Two weeks ago in College Station, Texas A&M played Kansas tough before losing 66-58.
"We tried to take away Thomas Robinson in that game and force them to beat us from the outside," Kennedy said. "We have to hope they miss from the 3-point line. We've got to be inside out and give them just one shot.
The loss to Kansas was part of a five-game losing streak the Aggies carried here. They lost nine of their last 10 in their final season in the Big 12. Last Saturday, they closed the regular season with a 65-62 loss at Oklahoma.
Turning the tables on the Sooners was made possible by a solid defensive effort. While Texas A&M shot just 38.2 percent from the field, the Aggies limited Oklahoma to 39.1 percent shooting. OU's Steven Pledger scored six points on 2-of-8 shooting as he was hounded by Elston Turner.
Turner's 8-0 run – two 3-pointers and a floater in the lane – gave Texas A&M a spark after it missed 16 of its first 22 shots. The Aggies had a 27-22 halftime edge, their first lead at the break since Feb. 6 against Texas.
Oklahoma forged a 39-all tie – oddly the only time the game was tied – on Sam Grooms' layup with 9:10 remaining. Considering that the Aggies had won in overtime on their home court and lost by three in Norman, this game looked to be another nip-and-tuck affair.
The Aggies made just two 3-pointers in the second half but they were well timed. With 4:04 remaining, Dash Harris hit a three for a 50-45 lead and Khris Middleton's triple with 1:45 made it 55-47.
"Dash's shot was one of the biggest shots in the game," said Turner, who scored 14. "We really weren't hitting in the second half but Dash has made big shots his entire career."
Oklahoma managed just 14 points over the last 9:10. During the first season for the Sooners under coach Lon Kruger, in most of their 16 losses they had scoring droughts that led to defeat.
"A game that's pretty tight, oftentimes that will make the difference," said Kruger, who should have all five of this season's starters back next season. "When you don't win a lot of games, as many as you want to, consistency is probably gonna be the problem.
"The guys returning have to crank it up a lot. We've got to learn out a compete a lot harder and compete to get a winning result. We can't settle for less than that."