For one team, this game presents a chance for a historic, program-defining win. The other hopes it’s simply a tuneup for two much bigger games next week.
Texas A&M takes a break from the NIT Season Tip-Off when it welcomes Division II Ouachita Baptist to Reed Arena on Saturday for the first meeting between the schools.
Coming off the best season in school history, but with a new coach in Mark Turgeon, the 15th-ranked Aggies (3-0) have opened the season with home wins over McNeese State, Oral Roberts and UTEP.
The last two victories were part of the NIT Season Tip-Off, which continues for Texas A&M next week when it faces Washington before meeting Syracuse or Ohio State in either the championship or consolation game. Those two games at Madison Square Garden kick off a tough stretch of non-conference play for the Aggies, who follow the tournament with a home game against SEC foe Alabama and a visit to Pac-10 power Arizona.
First, though, is Ouachita, which opens its schedule in College Station coming off a 14-14 season and a fourth-place finish in the Gulf South Conference’s West Division.
“Our kids are really excited,” Ouachita coach Charlie Schaef told the program’s official Web site. “It’s a game where we aren’t going down there for moral victories or anything else. Anytime we step on the floor for 40 minutes, we’re going to win.”
Schaef’s Tigers, led by last season’s top scorer Jaranimo Marks (16.0 points per game), must overcome a severe height disadvantage on Saturday. Texas A&M has a front line featuring 6-foot-9, 255-pound senior Joseph Jones - a four-year starter - and 7-foot freshman DeAndre Jordan.
Jordan, a heavily recruited player who towers five inches over Ouachita’s tallest player, has averaged 10.3 points and 7.3 rebounds to start his career.
The standout in the Aggies’ 81-76 win over UTEP on Wednesday, however, was 6-foot-7 junior Josh Carter, who scored 23 points and went 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
Carter started every game last season and averaged 11.8 points, but has scored a team-high 17.3 per game this season. His 3-pointer with 2:15 remaining put the Aggies ahead for good Wednesday.
“We needed a game like that,” Turgeon said. “We talked at halftime about having to prove ourselves every year. Our guys did a good job of coming together and getting it done.”
The Aggies went 27-7 last season under former coach Billy Gillispie and reached the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament, but lost Gillispie to Kentucky and All-American point guard Acie Law to graduation. Law was chosen 11th overall in the NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks.
Senior Dominique Kirk, who has started every game since arriving at Texas A&M as a freshman, has moved over from the shooting guard spot to help fill the void left by Law, and had 14 points and four assists against UTEP.
Texas A&M is 37-3 at Reed Arena since the beginning of the 2005-06 season.