COLLEGE STATION, Texas - It's never easy when you wear a number in front of your name in college basketball, and Monday Texas A&M moved up to No. 16 with the unveiling of the weekly rankings. North Texas, a team that is picked to win the Sun Belt conference and play in the NCAA tournament, certainly gave it a strong effort Monday night at Reed Arena.
But the Aggies (8-1) were able to fight off the never-say-die effort from the Mean Green (5-3) and obvious fatigue after playing six games in 12 days on their way to a 75-65 victory.
"I'm happy with the win. That's a really good team with a lot of fight and a really good point guard, which makes it kind of hard when he's in complete control of the game. I think they're going to win a lot of games," said A&M head coach Mark Turgeon. "We got a little careless in the second half. I think we could've built (the lead) out and made it a little more comfortable. It was a little bit of carelessness and not rebounding. I hate to make excuses but that's six games in 12 days. I think we got a little fatigued out there in the second half."
North Texas was like the pesky little brother that just won't leave you alone as it continued to fight back from a 15-point halftime deficit. The Mean Green was able to pull within eight late in the second half, but it wasn't good enough.
The reason was exactly the same thing that kept the Aggies from knocking off No. 6 West Virginia and narrowly preserving a win over Minnesota in Anaheim - free throws. A&M shot 83.3-percent from the charity stripe including a perfect 10-10 from senior guard Donald Sloan.
Sloan would finish with a game-high 21 points going along with three rebounds and a team-high four assists.
"We're actually a good free throw shooting team. We have a few slip ups every now and then, but I think we shoot free throws pretty well," Sloan said. "I know the stats don't really show it right now, but with as much work we put in and how many free throws we shoot every day in practice, after practice and before I think it'll start showing."
North Texas was able to claw back into the game due partly to the offensive play of point guard Josh White. North Texas' leading scorer this season, White was held to just four points in the first half, but he scored 11 in the second half for a game total of 15.
Also, the Mean Green limited turnovers in the second half. After 11 in the first half, UNT turned the ball over just three times in the final 20 minutes.
The difference saw UNT stay close and not allow the Aggies to pull away.
"I thought our guys gave great effort in the second half and made some plays, but just weren't tough enough in some areas to get some things going," said North Texas head coach Johnny Jones. "The way that we play we're a fast-paced team and we're going to push it on the break and we're going to take some chances, and unfortunately we had some unforced errors (in the first half)."
A&M, however, was able to keep the lead after forwards Bryan Davis and David Loubeau were in foul trouble early in the second half. It was a problem the Aggies were preparing to face before the season began, but Monday was the first time A&M was faced with the situation of having both big men in foul trouble.
Davis, who finished with 15 points, six rebounds and three blocks, and Loubeau, who finished with 12 points and four rebounds, passed with flying colors.
"I thought once they got the third foul they played smarter," Turgeon said. "It made them concentrate a little more and a little bit better. We played a big lineup more tonight which we will in the Big 12 some. We fought through it and we did what we had to do. It was good to have that and get into foul trouble and see what it felt like. I thought Bryan being a senior showed a little maturity, which is good to see with him playing with three fouls. That's a good sign."
A&M trailed by three, 17-14, with 11:43 left in the first half before the Aggies reeled off a 26-4 over the next 10:30 to give A&M its largest lead of the game at 40-21.
"Stops. We keep getting stops and we get on a roll. In that stretch when they were making shots I don't think we had any, maybe one," Sloan said. "Then on that run we got four stops in a row, then three stops in a row, then five stops in a row and we just fed off our defense. When we get stops we'll be all right. When we don't is when we can get into trouble."
A&M will face New Mexico (8-0) in its next game Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Toyota Center in Houston.