COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy figured the Aggies had nothing to lose in trying to snap a three-game losing streak, so he overhauled his defensive strategy entering Saturday’s game against Kansas State.
“We took a chance and played zone the whole game, and I thought it disrupted Kansas State and took them out of their offense,” Kennedy said. “I thought we’d have a hard time guarding them man to man.”
Turns out the Wildcats had a hard time guarding A&M’s Wendell Mitchell, but only after halftime. Mitchell scored a game-high 22 points, all in the second half, and A&M dashed past KSU 65-53 in the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge.
“On (Friday) night I talked about expecting the unexpected,” Wildcats coach Bruce Weber said of the Aggies going with a zone defense throughout. “In the first half we should have got the lead to 10 or 12 points, but we didn’t make the plays we needed to.”
The Wildcats (15-5) led 30-26 at halftime before the Aggies (8-10) outscored their former Big 12 brethren 39-23 over the final 20 minutes. A&M relied on an 18-3 run early in the second half to overcome a seven-point deficit just after the break.
Mitchell, who started his college career at Baylor of the Big 12, made 7 of 9 shots in the second half, and 7 of 12 overall, after sitting out all but six minutes in the first half in foul trouble. The Aggies had lost their four prior home games, including a nonconference contest against Texas Southern, before earning their first double-digit victory since prior to Christmas.
“Communication was at a high level today,” Mitchell said. “And I was just feeding off of my teammates.”
Dean Wade led the Wildcats with 17 points and the Aggies’ Savion Flagg led all rebounders with 12. The Wildcats held a 16-14 advantage in points in the paint in the first half, but the Aggies wound up with a 32-20 edge on that front.
“If we’re going to have a chance, we have to really be locked in defensively every time,” said Weber, whose squad is tied atop the Big 12 standings with Kansas at 5-2.
A&M exited the Big 12 and entered the SEC in the summer of 2012.