KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Texas A&M has wanted another shot at the No. 1 team in the nation all season after falling both times it got its chance against the nation's top-ranked team. The Aggies will get their shot again Friday in the Big 12 semifinals against top-seeded and top-ranked Kansas.
To get there, however, the fourth-seeded Aggies (23-8) had to dispatch a pesky Nebraska (15-18) that fought back after falling behind by as much as 16 in the second half. The Cornhuskers pulled as close as one point but were never able to get over the hump and take the lead as A&M went on to win, 70-64.
"Defensively we played just well enough, and they shot the ball extremely well," said A&M head coach Mark Turgeon. "They played with a lot of fight. We built the lead up to 16 and had chances to put them away but just couldn't do it. We got stagnant against the zone, missed shots against the zone, turned the ball over against the zone and stopped guarding during that stretch. We let our offense affect our defense."
A&M pushed a nine-point halftime lead to 16 at 44-28 in the 1:11 of the half, but Nebraska responded with a 25-10 run over the next 14:25 and things started to appear much like last year's Big 12 tournament in which the Aggies squandered a 21-point lead in the first round and eventually lost to Texas Tech.
But A&M senior guard Donald Sloan wouldn't let that happen as he stymied the Cornhusker run with a deep 3-pointer from the wing on his way to a game-high 23 points.
"I really wasn't, I guess, measuring it before I shot it. Just kind of in the flow of the game, knowing that we needed something big," Sloan said. "It feels good when you make it, but had I missed it it's a totally different story. Sometimes you just do things that you don't normally do."
Although Nebraska wouldn't go away from that point, A&M's lead never went below four again as the Aggie offense seemed fueled by Sloan's heroics. Freshman Khris Middleton, who matched his season high of 17 points and a career-high five steals, buried a 3-pointer on A&M's next possession and found a wide open Bryan Davis for a dunk two possessions later to seal the Aggie win.
The 17 points gives Middleton his first career back-to-back double digit scoring streak after leading the Aggies with 15 points in the regular season finale at Oklahoma.
"I just wanted to have confidence in my shot," Middleton said. "I shot it knowing it was going to go in and put my team up. It was just a shot I knew I needed to knock down."
A&M came out of the gates on a defensive rampage and limiting the Cornhuskers to no points until the 16:04 mark in the game when Jorge Brian Diaz hit a hook shot to get Nebraska on the board after A&M had already opened up an 8-0 lead. Diaz would finish with 14 points and five rebounds.
From then on Nebraska continued shooting well from the field after shooting 60-percent in its first round win over Missouri. The Cornhuskers would finish the game shooting 50-percent with the frontcourt keeping the Cornhuskers in the game.
Nebraska out-rebounded the recently red-hot Aggies, 29-25, as A&M senior forward Bryan Davis played just 22 minutes with foul trouble plaguing him throughout the game.
"I didn't think any of our post guys played well. Probably Ray (Turner) played the best, and he played the fewest minutes," Turgeon said. "But I expect David (Loubeau) to play better tomorrow. He wasn't very good, and Bryan has to play smarter than he played. He's been through too much to be sitting."
The Aggies played the game without starting point guard Dash Harris who was on the bench in street clothes and a soft cast on his right wrist. Harris suffered a bone bruise to the same wrist he injured earlier this season.
Turgeon said his starting point guard is day-to-day.
"We did just enough, and I think Dash is day-to-day. I fully expected him to play today and he just couldn't do it," Turgeon said. "So we'll wake up tomorrow and see if he's ready to play. If he's not, if we're lucky enough to win we'll see on Saturday."
The Aggies will face Kansas (30-2) Friday at 6 p.m. at the Sprint Center.