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Struggling Aggies turn season around
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M had dropped three in a row, including two straight at home, and the Aggies saw their once-promising season slipping away.
“We hit rock bottom,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “You lose two at home and get embarrassed in one game and then you’re down by 15 in the other. We had to hit rock bottom before we figured it out. We had no choice and guys responded.”
With five of the next seven games on the road, Texas A&M’s seniors called a players’ only meeting before a Feb. 9 game against Colorado. The team took that one in overtime, starting a five-game winning streak to get back on track.
Leading that meeting were seniors B.J. Holmes, Nathan Walkup and Andrew Darko.
“Darko kind of started it,” Walkup said. “He said: ‘Not to sound selfish, but this is my last year so we want to do it the right way.’ From then on people realized how important it was to us seniors. This is our last go around and we want to do it the right way. We saw much more intense play at Colorado from everybody. That’s what really started it and it’s continued to snowball and carry over from that.”
The last test in the brutal road swing comes Wednesday when the 24th-ranked Aggies face No. 2 Kansas looking for a win to build momentum entering next week’s Big 12 tournament. Texas A&M is in third place in the conference and a victory against Kansas would help in securing a first-round bye.
Turgeon has mentioned throughout the season the struggles he’s had in keeping his team focused and consistent. He likes where the Aggies (22-6, 9-5 Big 12) are now and hopes they can keep the intensity as they almost certainly head for their fourth straight NCAA tournament.
“This team in the last month has really grown up,” he said. “For a while it was a pretty good fight with these guys, but they’ve started to figure it out. The effort’s been there. They’ve been very coachable here lately.”
Texas A&M’s leading scorer this season is Khris Middleton, who is averaging 14.6 points a game as a soft-spoken sophomore who’s not necessarily the type to step up as a leader. It has been Holmes and Walkup whose leadership skills have backed up the nearly 20 points a game they combine to score each game.
Holmes said the meeting in Colorado helped the team realize that success often starts in practice and that the Aggies needed to work harder there to start winning again.
“The intensity picked up,” he said. “A lot of the young guys took it upon themselves to take accountability for their actions. Me and Nate don’t want our senior year to end bad. So we (got) the guys going.”
The team has already built on an impressive stretch by becoming the fourth class in school history to post four straight 20-win seasons. An NCAA tournament bid would make this group just the third in A&M history to reach the tournament four times in a row.
Still, the Aggies aren’t content with what they’ve done and hope to finish the season strong to nab a better seed in the tournament. They aren’t likely to limit their goals after being picked to finish just sixth in the Big 12 following the loss of stars Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis.
“I’ve been proud of this group and what they’ve been able to accomplish,” Turgeon said. “To be where we are record-wise, right now, is quite an accomplishment. I’m looking forward to coaching them for hopefully three or four more weeks and seeing what happens.”