A midseason battle between two Top 15 teams lived up to the hype, with Texas A&M knocking off Iowa State 72-62 to make an emphatic statement with just over six weeks to go before the NCAA tournament.
This was a heavyweight fight, with the teams trading uppercuts for 40 minutes. There was no margin for error on either side, as the score was tied 30-30 at halftime, though it did seem as if Iowa State had the upper hand.
Going into the break, the Cyclones were playing excellent defense, limiting the Aggies to 36.7 percent shooting, including 1-of-14 from three-point range. They also looked good on the other end, hitting 13 of their 28 field-goal attempts in the first 20 minutes.
Texas A&M kept things close by getting to the free-throw line, making seven of 10 attempts, compared to just three attempts—all misses—for Iowa State.
Free throws and turnovers were the difference in the game. The Aggies weren't great from the charity stripe, but they had 11 more makes in 11 more opportunities than Iowa State. Texas A&M also did an excellent job taking care of the ball, with just nine turnovers compared to 16 for the Cyclones.
The Aggies started heating up in the second half, with Tonny Trocha-Morelos hitting two three-pointers in the span of one minute for a 45-42 lead. DJ Hogg got in on the three-point barrage two possessions later to push the lead to four with about 12 minutes to play.
A television timeout allowed Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm to compose his group, and Deonte Burton recorded a breakaway dunk following a turnover by Alex Caruso.
Matt Thomas connected for a three on the Cyclones' next possession to take back the lead as part of a 7-0 run. That stretch came with Georges Niang on the bench because of foul trouble.
Niang later fouled out, finishing with a team-high 15 points and adding six rebounds. Burton was the only other Iowa State player to reach double figures in scoring with 11, and Jameel McKay was a monster on the glass with 14 rebounds.
But the Aggies kept coming back. Even though their three-pointers weren't falling consistently, they had no problem using the old-fashioned three-point play to create additional scoring opportunities.
Tyler Davis hit a layup while being fouled following a beautiful pass from under the basket by Caruso that gave Texas A&M a 55-53 lead.
After Iowa State retook the lead at 58-56 following a steal and layup by Monte Morris, the Aggies got a spark from Danuel House. The senior scored seven straight points to put his team ahead by five with 2:29 remaining.
It was fitting that House put an exclamation point on the victory with a thunderous and-one dunk to give Texas A&M a 68-60 lead with 55 seconds remaining, as SportsCenter shared:
According to ESPN's Jeff Borzello, House and Davis composed the entire Aggies offense down the stretch:
Danuel House (11) and Tyler Davis (7) have combined to score Texas A&M's last 18 points.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) January 30, 2016
Caruso did break that streak with two free throws in the final minute, but the tandem of House and Davis combined to score 35 of the team's 72 points.
Jalen Jones also played a prominent role for Texas A&M, registering 13 points and 14 rebounds.
While head coach Billy Kennedy, who earned his 300th career win Saturday, will be given a lot of credit for turning the Aggies into an elite program, Dan Wolken of USA Today wanted to acknowledge another member of the staff:
The Texas A&M hoops turnaround correlates pretty well to the hiring of Rick Stansbury as assistant. His tenure in Starkville was underrated— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) January 30, 2016
Rick Stansbury led Mississippi State to five SEC West titles and two SEC tournament titles in his 14 years with the program. He joined Kennedy's staff in 2014, and the Aggies are two victories away from consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time since 2009-11.
Iowa State had been rolling, with wins over Oklahoma and Kansas since Jan. 18. Another victory over a Top Five team would have allowed the Cyclones to make a significant jump in the polls next week.
Texas A&M was coming off a difficult loss at Arkansas, which ended its 10-game winning streak. The Aggies also needed to pass strong test against top-tier competition, because they had only one victory against a team that is ranked this week (No. 17 Baylor).
Texas A&M is not a traditional basketball power, but this team is putting together an excellent campaign. It has marquee games remaining against LSU and Kentucky, which could enhance its resume and prove to the nation the Aggies are legitimate title contenders.
Sticking with the theme of Texas A&M being strong national championship contenders, House said after the win how important it was for the team, per TexAgs.com:
Danuel House: This win is really big. It sets the standard for our team and lets us know that we can compete with anyone.— TexAgs (@TexAgs) January 30, 2016
House continued to hype up where the Aggies are at right now, per Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle, saying "this might raise the eyebrows of people saying, ‘What can Texas A&M really do?"
While Kennedy was excited about the win, he wasn't ready to make any big statements about where his team is at right now, per TexAgs.com:
Kennedy: We've got a lot of games left. We have to keep getting better one day at a time. We'll be alright.— TexAgs (@TexAgs) January 30, 2016
It is easy to roll your eyes at coach-speak, but in Kennedy's case, it does serve a purpose. Texas A&M was humbled earlier in the week by Arkansas, so one win three days later does not change everything that's happened.