Jones' 20 points lead Texas A&M past Mercer, 65-50
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) Texas A&M faltered during the holiday break the past two seasons, losing home games to Southern and North Texas.
But Tuesday night, after falling behind by 11 points against the Mercer Bears, the Aggies cured their holiday blues and roared back for a 65-50 nonconference victory.
A&M (8-3) closed the first half with a 17-0 run for a 30-23 lead, then put the game away in the second half with 14 unanswered points, sending Mercer (6-8) to a third straight loss.
''We had confidence, we believe in our team, even when we're down,'' said junior guard Jalen Jones who scored a game-high 20 points. ''We were able to fight back tonight and get the win.''
Jones was one of four Aggies to score in double figures. Davonte Fitzgerald added 13 points, and Danuel House and Kourtney Roberson each added 11. Only Roberson played two years ago when A&M lost to Southern, 53-51.
''I thought our depth was a big key in helping us win,'' said A&M head coach Billy Kennedy, adding that the team showed more poise than it has in the past.
A&M was coming off a 71-64 loss to Kansas State on Dec. 20 at Kansas City.
''The Kansas State loss was tough on us, we didn't have the game we wanted,'' said Jones who sat out last season after transferring from SMU. ''We knew we'd bounce back today.''
It didn't start that way as A&M missed eight of 10 field goal attempts and three of four free throws. Mercer, getting two buckets each from Ike Nwamu and T.J. Hallice, took an 11-5 lead and pushed its advantage to 19-8 on a 3-pointer by Jordan Strawberry with 8:09 left. Mercer, which beat Duke last season in the NCAA Tournament, was coming off an 86-77 triple-overtime loss at Georgia.
''We knew this was going to be a tough game,'' Kennedy said. ''This team should have beaten Georgia, they had a call go against them. I thought our guys kept an even kneel and showed good poise.''
A&M's size, depth and athleticism eventually wore down Mercer. The Bears didn't score in the final 5:37 of the first half.
''I thought we had a great beginning,'' Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said. ''But their ability to finish plays because of their length and athleticism is so good, they get to you a lot quicker than other teams we've played in the past.''
Mercer was forced to rely on 3-pointers, hitting 7 of 25, but A&M dominated inside with a 32-14 scoring edge, including 13-4 in second-chance points.
''I thought we played good defense the whole game,'' Kennedy said. ''They just hit some tough shots.''
Nwamu led Mercer with 16 points. Strawberry, son of former major league baseball player Darryl Strawberry, added 12.
Jones started the first-half run with a bucket and two free throws. House tied the game at 23 with a 3-pointer with 2:05 left and ended the half with another 3 with four seconds left with a nifty pass from Caruso.
A&M never trailed in the second half, though Mercer hit a pair of 3-pointers at the start to make it a one-point game. Mercer hit some tough shots to stay within striking range but A&M scored 14 straight points for a 65-46 lead. Fitzgerald started the spurt with a 3-pointer and later added another, but it was his dunk followed by another dunk by Roberson that sealed the win.
Mercer: Mercer had seven 3-pointers, its seventh straight game with at least six. Nwamu had four. The Bears are halfway through six straight road games, having lost to a trio of Southeastern Conference teams - Tennessee (64-54), Georgia (86-77, 3 OT) and A&M.
Texas A&M: Mercer was the sixth team A&M played this season which made the NCAA Tournament last season, going 3-3. A&M improved to 200-72 at Reed Arena.
Mercer visits North Carolina-Greensboro on Saturday.
A&M hosts Hartford on Saturday.