Texas A&M gets 1st SEC win, 74-70 over Mississippi State
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) Texas A&M saved its best free throw shooting for when it mattered most.
The Aggies missed 13 free throws before sinking 11 of 14 in the final minute to fend off a late surge from Mississippi State and hold on for a 74-70 win on Tuesday night.
''Those were big,'' coach Billy Kennedy said.
Alex Caruso scored 21 points, including five free throws down the stretch, to lead the Aggies to their first Southeastern Conference victory and snap a two-game losing streak.
''Even if it wasn't the prettiest, it feels great to get a win,'' Caruso said.
The loss extends Mississippi State's conference skid to 16 games, which ties a school record. The Bulldogs have lost 21 straight on the road, with their last win away from home coming two years ago.
Coach Rick Ray said their struggles on the road are largely because of defense.
''When things start going bad they lose interest on the defensive end because we're struggling offensively,'' Ray said.
The Bulldogs made three 3-pointers in the last minute, but Texas A&M (10-5, 1-2) tacked on six free throws to lead 70-65 with 20 seconds left.
Mississippi State hung around after that, twice cutting it to three points in final 13 seconds. A&M answered again with free throws, making two by Caruso and two from Danuel House to secure the win.
I.J. Ready led Mississippi State (7-9, 0-3) with 18 points.
Ready hit a jump shot before stealing the in-bounds pass and making a layup to get the Bulldogs within 58-52 with about three minutes left. But House made a desperation 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 61-52.
''It was drawn up that way and was beautiful,'' Kennedy joked.
House added 19 points for Texas A&M and leading scorer Jalen Jones scored 16 in his return after missing two games with a sprained ankle.
A 3-pointer by House put A&M up 10 with 14 minutes left. The Bulldogs then used a 7-0 spurt, highlighted by a 3-pointer by Travis Daniels, to cut it to 43-40 midway through the half.
Texas A&M broke a four-minute scoring drought soon after that with another 3 by House to push the lead to 46-40.
The Aggies had a slim lead before going on a 9-3 run to make it 56-47 with about four minutes remaining.
Mississippi State made three free throws in the opening minutes of the second half, but didn't make a basket until a layup by Roquez Johnson cut the lead to 40-33 with about 14 1/2 minutes left.
The Aggies used a 7-2 run in the first half to take a 12-7 lead with about 15 minutes left. The Bulldogs used a 6-2 spurt to cut the lead to 14-13 before both teams went cold on offense.
Neither team scored for almost three minutes before the Jordan Green made a pair of free throws to push A&M's lead to 16-13 midway through the first half. Kourtney Roberson added two free throws soon after that, before scoring the first field goal by either team in 4 1/2 minutes on a layup with eight minutes left.
Mississippi State finally ended its scoring drought on a 3-pointer by Daniels a few seconds later to cut the lead to 20-16.
The Bulldogs used a 7-2 run, capped by a heavily contested 3-pointer by Fred Thomas, to take a 28-27 lead at halftime.
''They played really well in the first half and our team played like it had a bear on its back,'' Kennedy said. ''We can't be frustrated when we're not up 10, 15. This is the SEC and there are not going to be a lot of easy games.''
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs fell to 0-3 in SEC play for the first time since starting 0-7 in 2006. ... Demetrius Houston left the game rubbing his hip after crashing hard to the court fighting for a rebound midway through the second half, but returned late in the game.
Texas A&M: The Aggies outscored the Bulldogs 15-7 on fast breaks. ... Roberson added 10 points and a block for A&M.
BENCH WARMING UP: Mississippi State's bench outscored Texas A&M's reserves 20-2 on Tuesday night. Thomas led the group with 12 points on four 3-pointers. It's the fourth straight game that the Bulldogs' bench has shined, with the group averaging 26.5 points in that span.
Mississippi State: Hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Texas A&M: Visits LSU on Saturday.