KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Nebraska missed its chance to make some history at the Big 12 tournament.
Donald Sloan scored 23 points, Bryan Davis had a key three-point play at the 1:01 mark and No. 23 Texas A&M stopped the upset-minded Cornhuskers 70-64 in a close and cleanly contested quarterfinal Thursday.
Nebraska, trailing all game while trying to become the first No. 12 seed to win two Big 12 games, got close in the final minutes but Sloan and Khris Middleton hit big shots to keep the Huskers at bay.
“We really executed against the zone late,” Aggies coach Mark Turgeon said. “Wish our defense would have been a little bit better down the stretch.”
After Nebraska cut the lead to 62-58 with 1:35 left on Sek Henry’s 3-pointer, Davis managed to get behind the Nebraska defense for a layup, was fouled by Jorge Brian Diaz and made the free throw.
In Friday’s semifinals, the Aggies (23-8) get a rematch with No. 1 Kansas, which beat them last month 59-54.
“I think our guys are ready,” Sloan said. “We’re prepared.”
Nebraska (15-18), which won only two of 16 regular-season conference games but beat No. 5 seed Missouri in the first round, will sit out the NCAA tournament for the 12th straight season.
But coach Doc Sadler pointed to his team’s hard-fought games in the tournament as evidence of a spirit and heart that belies its record.
“I hear stories that athletics is supposed to teach you lifelong lessons. If that’s the case, then these guys are going to be very, very successful people because their character is unbelievable.”
Ryan Anderson had 16 points for the Huskers, Diaz 14 and Sek 13.
Middleton had 17 for the fourth-seeded Aggies, including two key free throws with 28 seconds to go after Brandon Richardson’s two free throws had cut the lead to 66-62.
About midway through the second half, Sloan’s free throw gave the Aggies a seemingly comfortable 49-36 advantage. But Lance Jeter scored four quick points and the Huskers went on an 11-0 run, slicing the lead to 49-47 when Anderson made a 3-pointer at the 9:02 mark.
After an A&M timeout, Sloan’s basket stopped the drought and a few minutes later, B.J. Holmes’ 3-pointer made it 54-49.
Sloan’s 3-pointer put the Aggies on top 57-53 after the Huskers, trailing by 13 in the second half, cut it to 54-51 on two straight baskets by Diaz, their 6-foot-11 freshman.
“I was in the flow of the game knowing we needed something big,” Sloan said. “It feels good when you make it, but had I missed – totally different story.”
Sadler agreed it was a clutch shot.
“He stepped up and made that play,” he said. “You’ve got to give him credit. Was it big? It was huge. But he made the shot.”
Anderson hit a basket for Nebraska, cutting the lead to 57-55. Then Middleton made a 3-pointer, Sloan rebounded Anderson’s missed 3-pointer and came back and dropped in a layup for a 62-55 advantage.
“Sloan hit a big 3, just a huge 3,” Turgeon said. “And Khris hit a big 3 also. We really executed against the zone (defense) late.”
The Aggies, headed for a school-record fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance, scored the game’s first eight points and never trailed even though the Huskers shot 50 percent.
Sloan, with 12 points in the first half, made a 3-pointer for an 8-0 lead which reached 27-15 before A&M settled for a 37-28 halftime advantage on Sloan’s 3-pointer just before the buzzer.
Richardson who had 19 points in the victory over Missouri, played just 9 minutes in the first half and did not even take a shot. He got his first points on a 3-pointer early in the second half and finished with four points.