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Gonzaga Basketball

Texas A&M, SEC about to get a taste of what Gonzaga basketball means to Spokane

Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy (Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

For the first time in program history, Gonzaga entertains a Southeastern Conference opponent on its home court.

Texas A&M visits the McCarthey Athletic Center on Thursday, and there’s a good chance third-ranked Gonzaga will see an Aggies squad closer to full strength.

The Aggies reached the Sweet 16 last season, but they’re in transition after losing five of their top seven players. Three underclassmen turned pro, including first-round pick Robert Williams. Two seniors graduated after ranking among the top six in minutes per game.

Factor in a couple of key injuries and it’s easier to comprehend Texas A&M’s slow start. The Aggies (1-1) fell at home to UC Irvine 74-73 on Friday without Admon Gilder and Wendell Mitchell. Gonzaga is preparing with the expectation both will play.

The 6-foot-4 Gilder, who has been slowed by a knee injury, is a senior leader who has averaged roughly 33 minutes and 13 points the past two seasons. He’s made 140 3-pointers in his career and is the team’s most experienced player.

Mitchell, a 6-3 guard battling tendinitis, played nine minutes per game as a freshman at Baylor before transferring to Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College. He averaged 19.8 points last season and was regarded as one of nation’s top JC transfers.

Sophomore forward Savion Flagg leads the team in scoring (17.5), rebounding (10.5), 3-pointers (four) and steals (five). He had 24 points and 16 boards in a season-opening win over Savannah State.

Junior Josh Nebo, a 6-9, 244-pound transfer from St. Francis (Pennsylvania), contributes 12.5 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. Guards TJ Starks (12 points) and Jay Jay Chandler (11.5) and 6-9 John Walker III (10.5) give the Aggies five players averaging double digits.

“They seem to be playing at a really fast pace, and they’re probably more guard-oriented this year with their returning guys,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Some of these guys had success in last year’s (NCAA) Tournament. SEC size and athleticism, so it’s really going to be a good challenge for us, especially getting ready for Maui.”

The teams have met once, with the Aggies taking a 62-61 victory at the 2015 Battle 4 Atlantis. They scrimmaged prior to the 2017-18 season and will meet next season in College Station, Texas.

The Aggies, with nine newcomers (four freshmen, five transfers), were picked to finish 12th out of 14 teams in the preseason SEC poll.

Gilder and senior Chris Collins, originally a walk-on, are the only two scholarship players with more than one year of experience in the program. Three of the five underclassmen on scholarship had never played in a game for the Aggies prior to the season opener.