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January 19, 2010

Unlikely hero pushes A&M past OU

COLLEGE STATION, Texas - As the clock ticked down to two minutes remaining Tuesday night at Reed Arena Texas A&M trailed Oklahoma, 60-56, despite holding a 10-point lead at halftime. The Aggies were trying to pull a comeback of their own in the final minutes, and it was an unlikely candidate to lead it.

Within a span of 40 seconds just after the clock ticked down to the two-minute mark sophomore point guard Dash Harris, a pass-first guard who averaged just 5.1 points per game going into Tuesday night equaled that average with a jumper and 3-pointer to turn a four-point deficit into a 61-60 Aggie lead. Harris laid way to senior guard Donald Sloan who finished off the game with the next four points, preserving A&M's (13-5, 2-2 Big 12) 65-62 win.

"Definitely at A&M it is (the biggest points of my career). They were sagging off me pretty much the whole game and my shots weren't falling," Harris said. "I don't know if you guys notice this but I keep going to the end of the bench and talk to Derrick Roland a lot. Sometimes you just need someone to vent to, and he told me to keep shooting them. I was just down in my stance and let them go both times."

The Aggies had to comeback after Oklahoma (11-7, 2-2) erased a 10-point halftime deficit to take a lead with 12:18 left to play after a 3-pointer from freshman point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin, who led all scorers with a game-high 21 points. The Sooners used a 25-8 run over the first 11:30 of the second half to build as much as a seven-point lead.

A&M couldn't seem to find the twine as open looks just wouldn't go down while Oklahoma stopped settling for jump shots like it did in the first half and drove to the rim. Frustrations mounted for the Aggies, but a 5-0 run got A&M within two and the Reed Arena crowd of 11,109 out of their seats.

"We hit a couple shots and got the crowd in the game, got a little momentum and got our confidence back, and our team defense was better," said A&M head coach Mark Turgeon. "There was a reason we were struggling during that stretch because we had the wrong guys shooting the ball. Bryan Davis jump shot from the foul line is not a good shot and we just had the wrong guys shooting the basketball. The they said let's get the ball to B.J., let's get it inside and let's get the ball to Sloan and our offense got a little bit better and more aggressive."

Oklahoma's run was aided by the return of sophomore guard Willie Warren and freshman center Tiny Gallon who both got into early foul trouble in the first half. Warren was held to one point in the half while Gallon went to the bench with two points and no rebounds in just two minutes of action before picking up two fouls.

In the second stanza, however, Warren started attacking the rim and scoring while Gallon played smart, staying out of foul trouble and turning the tide on the glass. The Aggies outrebounded OU, 15-11, in the first half without Gallon in the game but that changed in the second half as Gallon pulled down seven in leading OU to a 22-15 second half edge on the boards.

Gallon would finish with 10 points and seven boards while Warren had 14 points and six rebounds.

"We came out the second half ready to fight, and we did a better job defensively without fouling," said Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel. "Because we were able to get some stops we were able to get out in transition and get some easy looks, and we had two of better guys out on the floor in the second half. It was tough in the first half without Willie and without Tiny on the floor."

With Gallon on the bench in the first half and Warren playing cautiously with two fouls, the Aggies took advantage of favorable matchups but not with the scorers one might think. Junior guard B.J. Holmes got out of his recent slump with 10 first half points, 13 for the game, but Sloan had just two at the break.

Leading the way behind Holmes in the half were freshman Khris Middleton and junior guard Derrek Lewis. Middleton had nine points in the half with four rebounds and finished with 11 points seven boards. Lewis meanwhile played a season-high eight minutes in the half and knocked down both of his shots for five points and four rebounds, including two crucial offensive boards. The duo along with Bryan Davis' seven first half points led A&M out to a 39-29 halftime lead.

"(Lewis) hit some shots and I know he's going to do the right things defensively. Derrek is going to have to help us more. He's going to have to play more," Turgeon said. "Derrek is going to have to help us. We're all gaining more confidence in him and his teammates have confidence in him and he's going to play more for us."

And just like the unlikely scoring of Middleton and Lewis in the first half, Harris would eventually cap off the night with his only five points of the game. But those five were arguably the most important of the night.

A&M will face Colorado (10-7, 1-2) Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Reed Arena.


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