COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) – Texas A&M, in citing a “sense of urgency” the Aggies said they repeated in every huddle, snapped a five-game losing streak with a 72-52 victory over Mississippi State on Wednesday night before 4,626 fans in Reed Arena.
Jamal Jones led the Aggies with 20 points and fellow forward Kourtney Roberson followed with 14. The Aggies (13-9, 4-5 SEC) and Bulldogs (13-9, 3-6 SEC) had lost eight consecutive games between them entering the contest, and A&M avenged an 81-72 overtime loss in Starkville, Miss., on Jan. 18 that kicked off the Aggies’ losing streak.
“We’ve been talking about a sense of urgency in the past three days,” said A&M guard Alex Caruso, who tallied a game-high 10 assists. “Even with 3 minutes left and we were up by 15, we were saying, ‘Let’s have a sense of urgency.”’
MSU, in playing its first game in history in College Station, traded leads with A&M until early in the second half, when the Aggies pulled away thanks to a relentless 16-0 run. A&M’s defense held the Bulldogs scoreless for more than 10 minutes in that stretch – from the 16:26 mark (36-35) to 6:08 (52-37).
“I was really disappointed with our effort,” said Bulldogs coach Rick Ray, whose program owns a 14-game road losing streak (including six this year) dating to last season. “I thought we had as bad a first half as we’ve had all season, but I was still optimistic, because as bad as we played it was still a tie ballgame (at 26-26).
“Then we played even worse in the second half. We’ve got to figure out where our competitive spirit is, especially on the defensive end, if we want to win ballgames.”
The Aggies shot poorly from the 3-point line early (1 of 12 in the first half but 6 of 18 overall), but pulled away late by outscoring the Bulldogs 40-14 in the paint and 22-1 in points off turnovers.
“We finished around the basket, got some open 3-pointers and we made them, and we shared the ball,” said coach Billy Kennedy, who’s trying to lead the Aggies into the postseason for the first time in his three seasons. “We competed at a high level, and we haven’t done that the last couple of games. We got better.”
The game’s highlight occurred when A&M freshman Davonte Fitzgerald blocked a fast-break layup attempt by Fred Thomas that prompted a roar from the sparse crowd more than midway through the second half, with A&M clutching a 47-35 lead.
“He sprinted back – we had talked about no layups all week, because we’d given up too many layups,” Kennedy said. “He showed some athleticism in that instance.”
No MSU player even reached double digits in scoring until Thomas sank a 3-pointer with 3:20 remaining in the contest. He and Craig Sword paced the plodding Bulldogs with 10 points each.
“We’re not a very good scoring team, and that’s been typical for us,” Ray said. “We don’t have a guy to go to. We try to get the ball inside, but people just pack it in against us.”
The Aggies also forced 17 MSU turnovers while committing only six of their own, in tying a season low. In addition, the Aggies’ 18 of 26 field goals in the final 20 minutes marked their top shooting half of the season.
“Recently I’ve been getting in the gym more because I’ve been in a slump,” said Jones, who scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half. “So much so that Coach Kennedy told me I need to slow down a little and save my legs.”
The Bulldogs return home for consecutive contests against No. 18 Kentucky and Georgia on Saturday and Wednesday, respectively, while the Aggies play at Georgia on Saturday and return to Reed for a Wednesday contest against LSU.