Aggies get physical to beat Wildcats

Minutes after Texas A&M was manhandled in an 81-60 loss to Texas earlier in the week, coach Mark Turgeon told the 11th-ranked Aggies they’d have to be much more physical to beat Kansas State.

Texas A&M answered his challenge, outmuscling Kansas State in a game with 48 fouls to win 64-56 on Saturday.

Khris Middleton had 18 points and Texas A&M made 13 free throws in the final two minutes to hold on against the struggling Wildcats.

"Before we left the locker room (Wednesday) I told them, ‘We better be a heck of a lot tougher if we expect to win,’ " Turgeon said. "We just talked about getting back to being us, which is defending. We haven’t defended well, to be quite honest."

Texas A&M (17-2, 4-1 Big 12) led by five before Kansas State’s Will Spradling knocked down a 3-pointer that made it 55-53 with about a minute remaining. B.J. Holmes made a pair of free throws with 45 seconds left to put the Aggies ahead by four before Jacob Pullen’s shot was blocked by David Loubeau on the other end and the Wildcats had to foul again.

Dash Harris made one of two shots to push the lead to 58-53, and the Aggies got the rebound on the miss.

Middleton hit six free throws after that to secure the win.

It was the fourth loss in five games for Kansas State (13-7, 1-4), which was led by Pullen’s 21 points. Curtis Kelly added 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Wildcats, off to a terrible start in Big 12 play after being the preseason conference favorite.

"We’re getting better," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "I understand our record doesn’t show it, but we’re better prepared to win than we were on Jan. 1. We’ve had some hard games in hard places, but that’s the story of the Big 12. No one will feel sorry for us."

Kelly had his best game since returning from his six-game suspension on Jan. 15, but Martin thought he could have done more.

"His stat line looks good, but I didn’t think he played well," Martin said.

Asked how he could have done better, Martin replied, "Maybe finish the game and not stop playing with two minutes to go."

The Aggies bounced back from the loss to No. 10 Texas, which was their first defeat since Thanksgiving.

"Kansas State was one of the most physical teams we’ve played," Holmes said. "They get up on you on defense and full-court pressure you. We try to set the tone out there and just play hard. You have to want to play defense and I think everyone on the team has bought into playing defense."

Texas A&M’s free throw shooting was the key in this one with the Aggies making 27 of 37 attempts compared to 11-of-19 shooting from the line for the Wildcats. Middleton led the way in that area, sinking 11 of 12.

"It’s hard to win on the road when you go 5 of 20 on the 3-point line and they shoot 37 free throws and you shoot 19," Martin said.

Turgeon thought his team could have had more trips to the line, but acknowledged that the physical nature of the game made calling everything difficult.

"It was a tough game to officiate," he said. "It was a wrestling match out there."

Middleton was the only Aggies player who scored in double figures, but Holmes, Naji Hibbert and Kourtney Roberson chipped in nine points apiece for Texas A&M.

Martin was encouraged that his team was only down by a possession with about a minute left after losing their last few road games by big margins.

"Last three road games we’ve had we had no chance," he said. "We’ve melted when adversity hit. We gave ourselves a chance today, but still had the breakdowns that kept us from winning."

The score was tied at 48 before the Aggies used a 7-2 run to make it 55-50 with just under 1-1/2 minutes left.

Pullen got Kansas State within 46-45 with a jump shot with about 10 minutes remaining. Both teams went on scoring droughts after that, with neither one making a field goal for about 5 minutes. The Wildcats tied it on a free throw by Kelly with about 7 minutes left.

Harris hit a layup with just more than 5 minutes remaining to break the drought and give the Aggies a 48-46 lead.

Kansas State led by six before Texas A&M used a 13-0 run to pull ahead 44-37 with 12 minutes to go. That run was fueled by a pair of 3-pointers by Hibbert that came 5 seconds apart. Hibbert hit one from the left corner before a turnover by the Wildcats gave the Aggies the ball back. He caught the inbounds pass and knocked down a second one from the right corner.

The Aggies were up by six after a 3-pointer by Hibbert with about 4 minutes left in the first half. The Wildcats finished the half with a 7-1 run to leave it tied 29-all at the break.