“This kind of epitomizes our team,” Aggies guard Alex Caruso said. “The heart, toughness . we’ll do whatever it takes to win.”
Jamal Jones, who started his career at Ole Miss before transferring, led the Aggies with 21 points, while Jarvis Summers paced the Rebels (17-12, 8-8 SEC) with 18. Ole Miss star guard Marshall Henderson finished with 16 points in making 5-of-16 3-pointers.
Jones, who only played in five games for Ole Miss in 2011-12 before transferring to Lee College near Houston, admitted the contest and its outcome was extra special to the one-time Rebel.
“This game means a lot to me,” an emotional Jones said afterward. “Obviously I was there my freshman year. I really wanted to win, my teammates knew I wanted to win, and we just all came together and got it done.”
Andy Kennedy, his former coach at Ole Miss, said of Jones, “He’s really turned himself into a catch-and-shoot guy.”
Meanwhile, the Aggies (17-12 and 8-8) played without senior Fabyon Harris and freshman Shawn Smith, who’ve traded out starts at shooting guard for much of the season. A&M coach Billy Kennedy said Smith was dealing with “personal issues” and, “We thought it would be best if he got away for a couple of days.”
He added that he intends to meet with Smith on Monday. The Harris scare shook up the A&M coach more. The senior fainted during the team’s shootaround earlier Saturday, and Kennedy said Harris was unresponsive for at least a few minutes.
“It was a real eerie feeling,” Kennedy said.
After Harris gained consciousness he was taken to an area hospital, where doctors intended to hold him overnight as a precaution. Billy Kennedy said Harris hadn’t eaten anything earlier in the day, which might have led to his collapse on the court.
Back on the hardwood, Caruso turned in the Aggies’ play of the year when he dribbled behind his back in the lane and then dunked over Henderson on a fast break early in the decisive second half.
“I didn’t really have the (dunk) planned out in my head, it was just kind of an instinct thing,” Caruso said. “That was all adrenaline right there.”
Caruso added that he had trouble keeping his balance in grasping the rim a bit too long, because, “I’m not used to dunking on people – I’m used to dunking in warmups.”
Caruso, whose electric play brought the crowd to its feet, lifted the Aggies to a 39-33 lead with 16:48 remaining (the game was tied 33-33 at halftime), and A&M outscored a staggered Ole Miss 32-27 the rest of the way. The Aggies outscored the Rebels 30-24 in the paint, and their 50.9 percent from the field (27 of 53) marked their best showing in seven games.
Jordan Green earned the start in the absence of Harris and Smith and turned in a career high 16 points. A&M, in trying to make the postseason for the first time in Billy Kennedy’s three seasons, has won four of its last six games, and rebounded strongly from a 68-49 setback at LSU on Wednesday.
The reeling Rebels have lost five of six, and Andy Kennedy said Henderson’s streaky shooting is just part of the equation with the flamboyant guard from Hurst, Texas.
“You never know with him,” the Rebels coach said. “He made three of his first four, but then made (two) of 14. . You never know when his next one might go in.”
The Aggies will play their final regular-season road game on Wednesday at Missouri, while the Rebels visit Arkansas the same night in their final SEC road game.