Middleton scores 24 in return for No. 22 Aggies

Louisiana-Monroe has had plenty of tough luck so far this

season. Khris Middleton returned just in time to keep the Warhawks

from breaking that trend.

Middleton, returning from a seven-game absence because of a knee

injury, scored 24 points to lift No. 22 Texas A&M to a 67-54

win over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday night.

”I’d heard he was going to play, and he was the story of the

game,” ULM coach Keith Richard said of Middleton. ”He really

flexed his muscles in the second half and took the game over.”

ULM (1-8) had played at three Southeastern Conference opponents

prior to facing its first Big 12 foe this season, and the 13-point

margin was the closest of the four games.

”We’ve been a poor defensive team this year, and haven’t been

too bad on offense,” Richard said. ”But I thought we did a decent

job defensively against the Aggies.”

The Aggies (8-1) broke a 43-all tie with 13:19 remaining by

scoring the next 11 points, including four from Middleton.

”It felt good to be back,” Middleton said. ”Just sitting

there and watching practice for three weeks and seeing where I

could be helping my teammates – I just wanted to be out

there.”

Middleton scored 14 in the second half and eclipsed 20 in a game

for the fourth time in his career and first time this season.

Hugh Mingo paced the Warhawks (1-8) with 21 points and nine

rebounds.

Keith Davis snagged a career-high nine rebounds for A%M, which

shot 45.8 percent (22 of 48) from the floor, while ULM shot just

37.3 percent (22 of 59). The Aggies have held all nine of their

opponents under 41 percent this season. Still, A&M coach Billy

Kennedy wasn’t pleased with the play of his big men.

”We have to do a better job overall on the defensive end, and

tonight our post guys struggled defensively,” Kennedy said. ”We

had to go small in the first half because of that.”

The Warhawks have struggled throughout the season, but kept the

game tight by outscoring the Aggies 16-5 over the first 5 minutes

of the second half to rally from a 38-27 halftime deficit. But

A&M, led by Middleton, outscored ULM 24-11 the rest of the

way.

”A&M is the sixth-ranked defensive team in the country, so

you’re scared you won’t score a point in 40 minutes,” Richard

said, smiling slightly. ”So I’m proud of our guys. If we had

played them without Middleton, we might have taken them to the

wire.”

The smaller Warhawks tried making up for their size disadvantage

by gunning from the outside, but finished 5 of 24 (20.8 percent)

from the 3-point line. The Aggies made just as many in about half

the attempts (5 of 13).

Middleton, a 6-foot-7 NBA prospect, led the Aggies in scoring

last year with 14.4 points per game. His presence Saturday helped

the Aggies spread things out offensively.

”When he’s out there it helps open up a lot of the offense and

teams have to pay attention to multiple guys,” A&M guard

Elston Turner said. ”With Khris and I on the outside and David

Loubeau and Ray Turner on the inside, that’s a pretty tough matchup

for anyone. It’s good to have him back, and it was easy to see he

was ready for this game.”

The Aggies won their 67th consecutive nonconference home game.

A&M wrapped up a six-game homestretch against subpar

competition with its sixth straight victory. The Aggies next play

Florida on Saturday in the MetroPCS Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise,

Fla. The Warhawks play host to Nicholls State, the only opponent

they’ve defeated this season, on Monday night.