Texas A&M gets test from Northern Kentucky

After two easy wins, Texas A&M gets a somewhat stiffer test Tuesday.

The No. 8 Aggies will host Northern Kentucky, an NCAA Tournament team last season, at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas.

The Norse won 24 games and the Horizon League a year ago and made their first-ever tournament appearance, losing to No. 2-seed Kentucky, 79-70.

Texas A&M (9-1) bounced back from its first loss of the season, Dec. 5 at Arizona, with blowout wins over Prairie View A&M and Savannah State, two teams with a combined record of 5-19.

Northern Kentucky (7-4) is coming off a 76-75 loss to Maryland-Baltimore County.

The Norse had the ball on the game’s final possession, but Lavone Holland’s short jumper hit the back of the rim as time expired.

“It was exactly what we wanted. Lavone got to the rim and had a great shot,” head coach John Brannen told the Northern Kentucky Tribune. “I’d take that shot 10 out of 10 times. It was executed perfectly, it just didn’t fall.”

Three of the Norse’s four losses have come by a combined five points (they lost to Vermont, 66-64, and Memphis, 76-74, earlier this season).

Texas A&M will be without 6-foot-4 junior Admon Gilder, who’s averaging 12.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists this season. Gilder, who shoots 43.6 percent from 3-point range, suffered a knee injury in the win over Savannah State and is expected to miss two to three weeks.

Gilder and DJ Hogg have made 50 of the Aggies’ 84 3-pointers this season. Hogg, who leads the team in scoring (15.7 points per game), is 33-for-61 from beyond the arc.

“Those guys work extremely hard in the offseason. They live in the gym,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said, according to 247sports.com. “They shoot the ball a lot, and it’s paying off for them.

“Usually, you see the production in a junior year when guys start growing up and understanding what’s a good shot and what’s not a good shot. I think they’ve

both been better and more disciplined on the offensive end in taking good shots. They make them when they’re open.”

Hogg will present a challenge for the Norse defense, which has received increased focus from Brannen this season. Northern Kentucky has allowed just one opponent to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor.

“Our identity is defense and it has been since the beginning of the year. That is a different identity than what a lot of people saw last year,” Brannen said. “I say that and we are averaging over 80 points a game so we can score too, but I think our guys really lock into the defensive end and understand who they are.”

Norse opponents are averaging just under 63 points per game.

While losing Gilder hurts the Aggies, Kennedy has a deep bench.

Eight different players are averaging 15 or more minutes per game.

“We’ve got 12 guys we feel can play for us,” Kennedy said. “All 12 of those guys have been on the floor at different times. We’ve got good depth.”

After hosting Buffalo on Thursday, the Aggies will have nine days off before beginning Southeastern Conference play at Alabama.

Northern Kentucky’s conference schedule begins Dec. 28 when it hosts IUPUI.