COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Texas A&M's injured leader Derrick Roland made it back to the bench Saturday for the first time since he broke his leg in a gruesome season-ending injury at Washington on Dec. 22, and the play on the court in A&M's Big 12 conference opener against Nebraska would have been a game the defense-first Roland would have relished to play in.
Nebraska (12-4, 0-1 Big 12), known for its defense, was able to keep things close with the favored Aggies with A&M shooting poorly from outside, just 3-21 from 3-point range on the day. But A&M (12-3, 1-0) used defense itself to spark a 21-10 run over the last 8:22 to pull away to a 64-53 win at Reed Arena.
"For us to shoot the ball the way we shot it and still win down the stretch pretty easily, and it wasn't easy at about the seven-minute mark, I'm proud of our group," said A&M head coach Mark Turgeon. "We guarded. I think nine out of the last 12 times they had the ball we got stops and I think that was the difference in the game. It was a good win for us."
With the game tied 43-43, A&M senior forward Bryan Davis blocked a shot from Nebraska guard Lance Jeter which led to a Nathan Walkup rebound a fast break for the Aggies. Davis would eventually feed guard B.J. Holmes who hit a wide-open eight-foot jump shot that sparked an 8-0 run.
With Nebraska looking to creep back into the game minutes later, Walkup drew a charge on Nebraska guard Eshaunte Jones. Then Walkup countered on the other end with a 3-point shot.
Walkup would finish with five points and six steals.
"(That) play kind of changed the game in our favor," said A&M guard Donald Sloan. "Plays like that just put a light under you. It means a lot to us because this league is very tough and plays like that I wouldn't say determine the outcome but it means a like towards the outcome."
A&M had to revert to its defense after missing open 3-pointers throughout the game. Freshman guard Khris Middleton opened the game with a 3-pointer and Walkup hit A&M's last 3-point attempt, but in between the Aggies shot just 1-19 from deep range. Sloan led the game with 26 points, but only three came from deep range as he was 1-5 from behind the arc.
Middleton and Walkup were both 1-4 while Holmes was 0-5, Dash Harris was 0-2 and Naji Hibbert was 0-1.
"We just can't hit a shot right now. Nate hit a big one. We hit the first one and I think the last one, and we were 1-19 in between," Turgeon said. "We're getting good looks. We turned it over against their double team a little bit, but we're going to make shots. As long as we keep guarding and rebounding I'm okay with it. We shot 14-percent from 3 and 38-percent for the game and we won by double figures. It's because you defended and rebounded."
Sloan, however, would eventually ice the game from the free throw line where he shot 13-14 on the day, leading the Aggies to 75.8-percent shooting from the charity stripe.
Davis led A&M on the boards with 11 and added 11 points. Middleton had nine points and three rebounds while Holmes had eight points.
"(Sloan) took over the game. We like to get him the ball," Turgeon said. "He's a hard guard. I thought he should've shot more free throws. Every time he puts it on the ground it seems like there are two hands on him. He can get the ball where he wants to get and we've got good spacing which has helped him out, and then he stepped up and made free throws. Sloan's offense down the stretch was really the difference."
Nebraska added freshman Christian Standhardinger to the lineup after he was forced to sit out 15 games by the NCAA for playing professionally in his home country of Germany before heading to Nebraska.
Standhardinger entered off the bench to lead Nebraska in scoring with 13 points and rebounds with seven his 22-minute debut.
"I thought (Standhardinger) was about what I thought, maybe a little bit better defensively than I thought it would be," said Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler. "Overall it was the first game he's played, so you've got to be happy with some of the things he did."
A&M hits the road to face No. 11 Kansas State at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan., Tuesday at 6 p.m.