Texas A&M used a vintage basketball formula to put the clamps on upset-minded Utah State on Friday.
Capitalizing on its superior length and athleticism, No. 5 Texas A&M moved on to the South region’s second round in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament with a dominant 69-53 victory over 12th-seeded Utah State at the Arena.
The Aggies, who have won first-round games in five consecutive NCAA tournaments, will square off with Purdue on Sunday in the second round. The Boilermakers, the region’s No. 4 seed, advanced with a 72-64 win over Siena earlier Friday.
“We didn’t come here to win one game,” Aggies guard B.J. Holmes said. “It was a great win and we’ll celebrate, but we’ll get back to the hotel and focus on Purdue.”
A&M took control early with aggressive, physical play on both ends of the floor and never relented. Utah State, implementing coach Stew Morrill’s complicated halfcourt sets, was pushed around and failed to find a rhythm against its opponent’s tenacious pressure.
A&M jumped ahead in the first half thanks to Khris Middleton’s torrid shooting touch. Middleton buried four of his five 3-pointers before halftime to spark the Aggies to a 42-29 lead at intermission. A 29 percent 3-point shooter during the season, Middleton’s output was an enormous lift.
“I’m being real confident, and when I shoot the ball I know it’s going to go in,” said Middleton, who tallied a game-high 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
Middleton knocked down a pair of 3-pointers during a 10-0 run that put A&M out front 14-5 with 13 minutes left in the half. Utah State inched within 21-18 on Jaxon Myaer’s runner, but Middleton and Holmes combined for three 3-pointers over the next 90 seconds to push the Aggies’ lead to 30-20.
The Western Athletic Conference’s regular-season champion, Utah State closed within 49-42 with 12½ minutes remaining in the game. A&M responded with eight straight points, though, to put the game away.
“We really moved the ball well against the zone,” Aggies coach Mark Turgeon said. “We worked hard on our zone offense all week.”
David Loubeau scored 14 points, and Holmes and Donald Sloan added 11 and 10, respectively.
Loubeau and Bryan Davis anchored the post for A&M, which flustered Utah State’s attempts to score in the paint. Utah State made just 24 of 62 shots from the field (38 percent), and A&M held All-WAC first-team selection Jared Quayle to 11 points on 5-of-18 shooting.
Tai Wesley paced Utah State with 14 points, but he battled foul trouble most of the game before picking up his fifth foul with 1:58 remaining.
Morrill said A&M’s defense was the best his team had faced this year.
“I thought Texas A&M put on a dominating defensive performance,” he said
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