Texas A&M failed its first true test of the season. Its next challenge might not be any easier.
The No. 19 Aggies look to bounce back from their first loss of the season when they face St. John’s in the consolation game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on Friday at Madison Square Garden.
Texas A&M (2-1) had little trouble beating Liberty and Southern University by a combined 47 points in its first two games. However, the Aggies received a severe wake-up call Thursday night when they were upset 69-60 by Mississippi State in the tournament semifinals.
The Bulldogs hit 10 of their 13 shots from the field to take a 22-point lead and leave the Aggies dazed before they regrouped to cut the deficit to nine at the break.
“We gave up too many open looks at the beginning, dug ourselves a hole and we couldn’t come back,” said Aggies guard Dash Harris, who finished with four points on 1-of-8 shooting.
Texas A&M, which shot a combined 61.0 percent in its first two games, made just 40.7 percent (22 of 54) of its attempts Thursday. Despite its hot start, Mississippi State shot the same percentage overall but never allowed the Aggies to get close enough to make things completely interesting.
Elston Turner had 13 points and David Loubeau, who spent most of his childhood in the New York City area, added 11 for the Aggies. Six-foot-9 junior Ray Turner, who scored 20 points in each of Texas A&M’s first two contests, was held to two on 1-of-5 shooting.
The Aggies could have used preseason all-Big 12 selection Khris Middleton, who will miss three to four weeks after he injured his right knee in their season-opening victory over Liberty on Nov. 9. Middleton averaged a team-leading 14.4 points as a sophomore in 2010-11.
“Khris is an all-conference player and we need him, but defensively that’s no excuse for how we played (Thursday),” Harris said. “Defense is team-oriented. We miss Khris and we can’t wait to get him back. When he comes back you’ll see a different team. This isn’t how we play.”
The Aggies won’t have much time to regroup with an inexperienced, but feisty St. John’s team next up on its home away from home at MSG.
St. John’s (3-1) led No. 15 Arizona by eight points with less than eight minutes to play in the second half before it succumbed to a 16-2 Wildcats run and went on to lose 81-72 in the other semifinal contest.
Though the Red Storm shot 51.1 percent and held Arizona to 41.7 percent overall on the night, the Wildcats were 14 of 29 from beyond the arc and forced 17 St. John’s turnovers.
Guard Nurideen Lindsey scored 18 points and freshman D’Angelo Harrison added 16 for the Red Storm, who return just two players and one significant contributor from last season’s 21-12 team that reached the NCAA tournament. Lindsey is averaging 16.3 points through four games.
“St. John’s has a very underrated team,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “They lack some depth and they’re very young but they have some very talented players and I thought from their perspective they gave great effort.”
The first ever meeting between Texas A&M and St. John’s features a pair of coaches back on the sidelines despite dealing with some severe health issues. First-year Aggies coach Billy Kennedy was recently diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s disease, while St. John’s Steve Lavin underwent prostate cancer surgery Oct. 6.