Texas A&M vs. Utah State
Spokane, Wash. When Texas A&M guard Derrick Roland broke his leg in December it forced some drastic lineup changes for the Aggies, including freshman Khris Middleton being moved into the starting lineup.
He played OK, then averaged a solid 15 points in three Big 12 tournament games.
But Middleton erupted for a career-high 19 points as fifth-seeded Texas A&M crushed 12th seed Utah State 69-53 on Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament's South Regional.
"Going into the game, I was a little nervous," the 6-foot-7 Middleton said. "But as we started, I was less nervous and just played."
Making your first four 3-pointers will do that. Middleton made 7 of 10 shots, including 5 of 6 3-point attempts, in 25 minutes. He came in averaging 7.0 points per game and shooting 29 percent from 3-point range.
Texas A&M (24-9) advanced to the second round for the fifth consecutive year and will face No. 4 seed Purdue on Sunday.
Middleton scored 14 points in the first half as Texas A&M built a 42-29 lead and shut down the normally efficient Utah State offense. Utah State never got untracked, shooting 38 percent — well below their season average of 49 percent — and scored 20 points below their season average.
"We haven't played anybody as good as Texas A&M," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. "Texas A&M physically dominated us."
David Loubeau added 12 points and B.J. Holmes had 11 for Texas A&M, which also dominated the rebounding.
"It all came down to defense," A&M coach Mark Turgeon said. "I was on them pretty hard in practice this week. We did it one game. Now we have to do it again on Sunday."
Utah State (27-8) lost its fifth consecutive first-round game. Its last win came in 2001 over Ohio State.
"I thought everybody kind of took their game to another level," A&M's Donald Sloan said. "I thought for 40 minutes that's the best defensively I've seen us in maybe weeks."
Texas A&M was in charge from the start. Consecutive 3-pointers by Middleton keyed a 10-0 run that gave A&M a 14-5 lead. Middleton hit another 3 for a 21-13 lead as Utah State made just six of its first 14 shots.
Jaxon Myaer's basket cut the A&M lead to three points, but Middleton replied with his fourth 3-pointer and Holmes added two as A&M took a 30-20 lead.
Texas A&M closed with a 10-4 run over the final 4 minutes for a 42-29 halftime lead. They shot 56 percent in the first half, including making 6 of 12 3-point attempts. Utah State shot 41 percent in the first half, and was outrebounded 22-11.
"We did not do a good job in terms of locating him in the corner," Utah State's Tyler Newbold said of Middleton. "We didn't rotate fast enough."
Utah State hung around in the second half, as Texas A&M cooled off a bit. Nate Bendall's rebound and layup brought the Aggies within 49-42 with 12:33 left.
But Texas A&M scored eight straight points to build a 57-42 lead with 9 minutes left.
Jared Quayle's first field goal since he scored Utah State's first two baskets cut the A&M lead to 57-47. But A&M rattled off eight straight points, capped by Holmes' 3-pointer, for a 65-47 lead with 4 minutes left.
"I was shocked how strong and physical they were," said Tai Wesley, who led Utah State with 14 points. "They were really trying to throw us around."
Sloan was the fourth A&M player in double figures with 10 points. The Aggies shot 49 percent in the game, making 8 of 18 3-point attempts and 11 of 14 free throws.
A team that averages 42 percent from 3-point range, Utah State made just 5 of 20, and missed all four of its free throw attempts. Utah State was 23-0 this season when making at least five 3-pointers.
"Our whole thing was, Utah State had to beat us with 2s today," Turgeon said. "I think they were so fatigued because they had to work so hard to get a shot. I think our depth kind of wore them down."
Quayle, Utah State's all-Western Athletic Conference guard, was 5 of 18 from the field in one of the worst shooting performances of his career. He finished with 11 points.
"We tried to wear him down," Holmes said.
Utah State has been to the tournament 19 times, but is 6-21 overall.
Holmes said A&M is not done.
"We didn't come here just to win one game," he said.