NCAA BK

Sam Houston St.-Texas A&M Preview

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During a stretch of games against inferior opponents, Texas A&M has been playing outstanding defense while struggling offensively.

All-Big 12 selection Khris Middleton would likely give the offense a boost if he makes his return.

Middleton could play for the first time in a month when the 22nd-ranked Aggies host Sam Houston State on Wednesday night.

Middleton has been out since partially tearing his right meniscus in a season-opening win over Liberty on Nov. 9. Coach Billy Kennedy said the 6-foot-7 junior, who averaged 14.4 points and shot 45.2 percent from the field last season for the Aggies (6-1), could be back Wednesday.

However, the forward might be held out until Saturday's game against Louisiana-Monroe.

"We're not in a rush," Kennedy said. "So if not Wednesday, hopefully Saturday we'll have an opportunity to see some action."

With Middleton sidelined, the Aggies have looked rather ordinary offensively. Texas A&M scored 83 points in its first game without him, a win over Southern on Nov. 13, but has averaged 57.0 points and 41.9 percent from the field in five games since.

"We know in order to beat the better teams as we move on, we're going to have to start making shots,'' guard Elston Turner said after a 55-42 win over Stephen F. Austin on Saturday.

Turner, second on the team with 11.9 points per game, had 17 against the Lumberjacks after finishing with a season-low four in a 56-44 victory over Alcorn State last Wednesday.

Ray Turner leads Texas A&M with an average of 14.1 points, but likely won't be asked to carry as much of the offense load when Middleton comes back.

"The return of Khris will help a lot because it opens up the floor a little bit. People don't have to just focus on one guy," Kennedy said. "Our guys have confidence with him on the floor. He is a very good passer. He can get the ball inside. We expect him to make us better offensively right away."

The Aggies can't play much better defensively, though some of that likely has to do with the offensive ineptitude of their recent opponents.

Texas A&M has limited three straight teams to fewer than 50 points for the first time in five years and the second time since 1959-60. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Alcorn State and Stephen F. Austin, who are a combined 4-14, shot 29.8 percent from the floor and 16.7 percent from 3-point range in losses to the Aggies.

"I'll know a little bit more about that as we see tougher people," Kennedy said.

A matchup with Sam Houston State (3-5) probably wasn't what Kennedy was referring to.

The Bearkats' wins have come over NAIA opponent Paul Quinn, Division III team Howard Payne and Dallas Christian of the National Christian College Athletic Association. In its losses, Sam Houston State has averaged 46.2 points - 19.0 fewer than its opponents - and 34.7 percent shooting.

Texas A&M has won 16 straight in the series since a 59-58 win during the 1956-57 season. The teams have only played once since back-to-back meetings during the 1997-98 and '98-'99 seasons, a 60-50 Aggies victory Dec. 28, 2008.

The Bearkats, winless in all 10 games against ranked opponents since the start of 1996-97, are coming off a 66-54 victory over Paul Quinn on Thursday. Marcus James had career highs of 18 points and 17 rebounds while Konner Tucker, who averages a team-high 12.4 points, scored 12.

Sam Houston State is the three-time defending Southland Conference Western Division champion, but only has six healthy and eligible scholarship players available.

Tagged: Houston, Sam Houston State, Texas A&M, Texas, Elston Turner, Khris Middleton, Ray Turner

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