COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP)—Texas A&M has been trying for weeks to show it deserves an NCAA tournament bid.
After winning their sixth straight, 96-86 over No. 15 Missouri on Saturday, the Aggies believe they’ve earned it.
“Who knows the things that are going through people’s mind’s, but I’m confident enough to say, `Yeah we got it,”’ said Donald Sloan, who finished with 16 points.
The Aggies (23-8, 9-7 Big 12) built an early lead and were up by 26 points with about 16 minutes remaining. But Missouri (25-6, 12-4) went on two separate runs to whittle the lead. The second one was an 11-4 stretch that made it 81-71 with about 5 minutes left.
DeMarre Carroll cut the lead to seven points twice after that, but Sloan answered with a dunk on a fast break to push the lead to 90-81 with 32 seconds left.
The Aggies made six free throws in the final seconds to secure the win.
Carroll led Missouri with 18 points and Zaire Taylor added 17.
The Aggies haven’t lost since a defeat at Baylor on Feb. 14 dropped their conference record to 3-7 and had most figuring their fourth straight NCAA tournament bid was out of the question.
“A lot of teams would have folded, but we didn’t,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “Our poise has gotten better during that stretch and our fight has been unbelievable. We’ve just had great fight and determination in us.”
Josh Carter and B.J. Holmes both had 13 points for the Aggies. All but two of Carter’s points came in the second half after he injured his ankle and sat out for a span in the first half.
Carter said he was in a lot of pain in the first half, but that an injection in his ankle at halftime eased the discomfort.
“It definitely helped,” he said.
The Aggies led 62-36 before Missouri went into desperation mode, shooting 3-pointers on almost every possession. They made four 3s to fuel a 20-7 run to get within 69-56 with about 10 minutes left.
A win would have given the Tigers a chance for a share of the Big 12 title for the first time in school history. Instead Missouri followed up a nearly flawless win over No. 4 Oklahoma with a sloppy and unenthusiastic first half on Saturday.
Taylor said he thinks the team tends to get complacent after big wins.
“There’s contentment after any little success we have,” he said. “It’s been plaguing us the whole season. People are feeling good thinking, maybe things are supposed to be easy. We always learn a lesson from a loss, we’ve got to learn lessons from a win.”
Missouri coach Mike Anderson said he’s tried to get his team past that problem.
“We talked about that,” he said. “I’m working on that. These guys are probably in a territory they’ve never been before.”
The Tigers had nine turnovers in the first half to match their total against the Sooners, and Carroll, the team’s leading scorer, had just two points at halftime.
“We just came out didn’t play aggressive like we normally do,” Carroll said. “We came out passive.”
The Aggies scored nine straight points on 3-pointers to stretch their lead to 27-14 about midway through the first half. Missouri scored a basket before A&M went on a 7-0 run to stretch the lead to 32-16.
Texas A&M led 51-29 at halftime.
“I thought they were a hungry team and it showed in the first half,” Anderson said.
Former President George H.W. Bush took a break from the hospital where his wife Barbara is recovering from heart surgery to attend the game. Bush, whose presidential library is on the A&M campus, got a hearty welcome when he was introduced and another cheer came when the public address announcer asked the crowd to wish Barbara a speedy recovery.
The former first lady was moved from an intensive care unit to a private room on Saturday after Wednesday’s surgery to replace her aortic valve.