Jones helps Texas A&M outlast Tennessee 67-61
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Texas A&M's experience facing zone defenses helped it handle Tennessee's version of it better than most other Southeastern Conference programs.
Jalen Jones scored 18 points and pulled down nine rebounds Saturday as the Aggies outlasted Tennessee 67-61 for their fourth consecutive victory. All four wins have come in SEC competition, giving the Aggies (13-5, 4-2) their longest conference winning streak since moving over from the Big 12 in 2012.
''I'm proud of our guys,'' Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. ''They came in here with a lot of confidence and executed the game plan against a very good Tennessee team.''
Tennessee (12-6, 4-2) lost for just the second time in its last 10 games. The Volunteers entered the day alone in second place in the SEC, thanks mainly to a matchup zone defense that has given opponents fits.
The Aggies shot for a higher percentage (.481) than Tennessee had allowed in any of its first five conference games. Texas A&M's nine turnovers matched the lowest total by any Tennessee opponent this season.
Texas A&M credited the lessons learned in losses to Baylor and Alabama, which both played primarily zone against the Aggies.
''With the zone, you have to be patient, see what you have,'' Jones said. ''You can't force anything, or that will lead to turnovers and that will lead to easy buckets. We just had to be patient, be poised and execute.''
Instead, it was Texas A&M's zone giving Tennessee problems, though the Vols made things interesting down the stretch.
Tennessee had cut a 17-point, second-half deficit down to five when Vols guard Kevin Punter missed a driving layup attempt with 1:13 remaining. Texas A&M went 5 of 6 from the free-throw line the rest of the way to seal the victory.
''I let it go off the glass, and it was right there,'' Punter said. ''It just rolled out.''
Danuel House scored 15 points and Alex Caruso added 13 for Texas A&M. Punter scored 17 and Josh Richardson and Robert Hubbs each added 12 for Tennessee.
Texas A&M outrebounded Tennessee 34-27 and outscored the Vols 30-10 in points in the paint. Tennessee had more 3-point shots (29) than two-point attempts (23).
I don't think we played like a mature team today. That falls on my shoulders, Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall said. ''I don't like to use that word - complacency - but we came out at the beginning of the game exactly like that. We will have to learn from the film room and hopefully get our mentality back to where we're on edge every single game. ''
Texas A&M: Antwan Space had made the key play in both of the Aggies' victories over Tennessee last season, as he hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 4.4 seconds left in a 57-56 triumph at Knoxville and sank another 3-pointer in the closing seconds of a 68-65 overtime thriller at College Station. But the junior forward didn't play at all Saturday and has played only two minutes during the Aggies' four-game winning streak.
Tennessee: This represented a rare home loss for a Tyndall-coached team. Tyndall's teams are 35-3 in regular-season home games since the start of the 2012-13 season. That includes a 27-1 record at Southern Mississippi and an 8-2 mark at Tennessee.
Kennedy and Tyndall spent five seasons as Ohio Valley Conference rivals from 2006-11 when Kennedy was at Murray State and Tyndall was coaching Morehead State. Kennedy now leads 9-3 in head-to-head matchups.
''I know Donnie's teams defensively can ratchet up and get back with their press,'' Kennedy said. ''I knew they would make a run at us. Fortunately we had enough poise and made enough free throws to finish the game off.''
Punter made his first five 3-point attempts and finished 5 of 7 from behind the arc and 5 of 9 overall. His teammates were a combined 6 of 22 from 3-point range and 15 of 43 overall.
Texas A&M is at Auburn on Tuesday.
Tennessee is at Arkansas on Tuesday.