CHICAGO (AP) Opening night felt more like an NCAA tournament game to Texas A&M coach Gary Blair.
”You just saw two Sweet 16 teams and I think both of us will be back,” Blair said Friday night after the No. 5 Aggies pulled away down the stretch for a 76-68 victory over No. 18 DePaul.
Texas A&M, which beat DePaul 84-65 in last season’s Sweet 16, was dealing with a near full-house atmosphere and intensity at DePaul’s McGrath-Phillips Arena. The Aggies were also playing with a big hole in the lineup.
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Junior Courtney Williams, one of four returning starters, did not play after being suspended indefinitely late last week for a violation of team rules and athletic department policy. Blair did not address Williams’ suspension after the game, but guard Jordan Jones talked about what was missing.
”(Williams) really stretches the defense out because she has so much finesse with what she does,” Jones said. ”She can shoot from outside, she can take anybody in the paint, she can post up.”
That left it to Courtney Walker to pick up the slack. The junior guard scored 26 points to lead Texas A&M to the victory while Jones and Khaalia Hillsman each added 10 points.
The Aggies (1-0) secured the win closing the game on a 10-2 run, including going 8 for 8 from the free throw line.
Jessica January scored 24 points to lead DePaul (0-1). Brittany Hrynko had 19 and Megan Rogowski added 10.
Texas A&M opened its biggest lead at 56-47 after Walker’s 3-pointer with 10:45 left. But DePaul stormed back and by the 6:19 mark had tied the game at 60 on Hrynko’s two free throws.
The teams traded points until it was 66-66 all with 2:45 left on Chanise Jenkins’ layup. Then the Aggies took over.
Texas A&M: The Aggies returned 83 percent of their scoring and 81 percent of its rebounding from last season’s team that advanced to the Elite Eight, including Walker (15.6 points), forward Courtney Williams (13.9) and guard Jordan Jones (7.1).
DePaul: The Blue Demons, unanimous pick for a second straight Big East title, brought back four starters from a 29-7 team including Hrynko (12.5 points) and 3-point threat Rogowski (15.7 points).
Texas-Pan-American topped New Mexico 61-59 behind 21 points from Shawnte’ Goff and 12 from KaeLynn Boyd in the first of two games in the annual Maggie Dixon Classic at DePaul. Antiesha Brown led New Mexico with 19 points while Khadijah Shumpert added 17. The Maggie Dixon Classic salutes the former DePaul assistant and Army head coach who died from a heart arrhythmia in 2006.
Texas A&M plays New Mexico on Saturday at DePaul
DePaul hosts Texas Pan-American on Saturday.
Texas A&M shot 29-of 57 (50.9 percent) for the game while DePaul struggled at 22-of-71 (31.0 percent) including 19.2 percent (5-of-26) from the 3-point line.
ON THE RISE:
Texas A&M’s No. 5 ranking is the program’s highest ever to start a season.