KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Somewhere behind closed doors, senior guard Elston Turner was at the center of a celebration, the shouts and claps that lifted from Texas A&M’s locker room a release. This satisfied. This was sweet.
Less than 10 minutes earlier, Turner had swished a 3-pointer with 2 seconds left, giving the Aggies a 55-54 victory over Washington State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic consolation game at Sprint Center. Later, Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy praised his team’s second-half effort, and Turner called the triumph “a team win.”
But here, in the moments after the end Tuesday, there was nothing but elation. This is November, but for the Aggies, Turner’s dramatics produced March joy.
“Yes, sir!” someone shouted in the locker room.
Turner’s shot served as a jolt to a drowsy night. The Aggies and Cougars tipped before a crowd fit for a mausoleum, with what looked like 200 fans in the stands.
In the first half, the teams shot with a bricklayer’s touch — Texas A&M went 30.4 percent from the floor and Washington State 33.3 — and little appealed about this undercard matchup before a Kansas-Saint Louis final.
But a tone change occurred early in the second half, one that allowed Turner to push the Aggies to a 4-1 record. After the Cougars entered halftime with a 21-16 lead, the Aggies went on a 13-5 run, a spurt that included nine consecutive points after Washington State held a 26-20 advantage.
Texas A&M’s rise fulfilled Kennedy’s vision. He needed something, anything, to spark his team after a dismal opening 20 minutes on offense. His message before play began after the break was simple, pointed and direct.
“We need to shoot the ball and believe we can make it,” Kennedy recalls saying.
This is what belief looked like: Turner dribbling near the top of the key in the closing seconds, waving off Texas A&M senior forward Ray Turner after Washington State’s switch. At the time, Elston Turner was paired against 6-foot-10 junior forward D.J. Shelton. The veteran player wanted to avoid allowing a more nimble defender back in the play.
The strategy worked. Turner backpedaled toward the opposite end, wagging his tongue after the clinching shot. He traded high-fives and chest bumps with anyone around him. He understood the importance of recovering after a 21-point letdown loss to Saint Louis on Monday, and he savored the moment.
“We executed what we needed to do,” said Turner, who finished with 10 points. “They switched, and I didn’t think they were going to switch – but they did. … Our team brought us back into it. Our role players played a heckuva game, and I’m glad we just came up with the win.”
Few games hold deep meaning in November, but this result could give the Aggies a lift. They’re a young team – their roster includes three seniors and eight underclassmen – so earning one victory in two tries on this Kansas City trip could be more valuable than it might appear.
“We stepped up in competition with a new team,” Kennedy said. “Last night was a tough game against a very good Saint Louis team. We get to go home with some confidence.” Why?
“Because it shows everyone that we can compete and come home with a win,” said Ray Turner, who finished with a team-high 14 points. “The shot was amazing. Elston – he’s going to shoot that. He needs to shoot that, especially when he got mix-matched. I’m very proud of that.”
There’s no reason to remind Elston Turner, an honorable all-Big 12 Conference selection last season. He entered as Texas A&M’s horse in scoring (16.8 points per game) and minutes played (34 per game). He had made 11 of 25 3-point tries before Tuesday, though he was a frigid 1 of 12 from the floor before lifting the Aggies to victory.
But leadership is like sweat: It’s most visible when the heat is on. Texas A&M needed someone to come through in the clutch, and Turner proved his value again.
“We did a great job until Turner hit the shot,” Washington State coach Ken Bone said. “We planned on switching everything. Fortunately, we had a … 6-10 kid on him. He made about a, what, 25-, 28-footer? That’s all I saw. There’s no play involved. Nothing else. He just dribbled around out there, and he’s a great shooter.”
Somewhere behind closed doors, in a celebration that carried on long after the buzzer, Turner’s team thought so too.
The calendar reads November. The emotion says March.