Coach Mark Turgeon knows he inherited a Texas A&M program on the rise after Billy Gillispie’s tenure. Further proof of that is Texas A&M’s presence in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
The 15th-ranked Aggies begin play in the prestigious event when they host Oral Roberts on Tuesday night.
Texas A&M (1-0) went 27-7 and reached the regional semifinals of the 2007 NCAA tournament in Gillispie’s last season with the school before he left for Kentucky. Along the way, the Aggies - who had scheduled a notoriously soft non-conference slate in years past - played and lost non-conference games to national powers LSU and UCLA.
This year’s schedule features the NIT Season Tip-Off, formerly known as the preseason NIT. The Aggies are the only ranked team in the field, but could face matchups with Washington or Ohio State down the road.
“There is no way A&M would have hosted a preseason NIT game four years ago,” Turgeon said. “For this to happen is a credit to what the previous staff did and the players to get us home games in this so it means a lot. I would never play in this tournament unless we were hosting.”
The winner will face Texas-El Paso or Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Wednesday for the right to advance to New York for the semifinals on Nov. 21.
Turgeon won his debut with Texas A&M, 73-50 over McNeese State on Friday. Josh Carter led the way with 14 points while freshman DeAndre Jordan added 12 on 6-of-8 shooting in his first game.
Power forward Joseph Jones had a rough night, managing 11 points and two rebounds while being limited to 17 minutes due to foul trouble.
“Joe can’t have the fouls he had,” Turgeon said. “He was guarding the best player, we challenged him to guard the best player and he didn’t respond early.”
Turgeon will be going up against a familiar face in Oral Roberts point guard Adam Liberty, who played for the coach at Wichita State from 2003-05.
“I love the point guard, he played for me at Wichita State,” Turgeon said. “I loved him there, he started every game for me when he was a sophomore.”
The Golden Eagles (1-0) opened their season with an 84-59 win over Southwestern Oklahoma State last Friday. Shawn King scored a career-high 20 points and Moses Ehambe and Robert Jarvis each added 19.
Oral Roberts, which is coached by Scott Sutton, has been picked to finish second in the newly renamed Summit League and is playing an ambitious schedule that includes trips to No. 16 Texas and No. 18 Arkansas
“They remind me a lot of the way we were at Wichita, we weren’t afraid to go in places and play,” Turgeon said. “I am sure they have had this game circled for a while, and having the opportunity to play us first is an advantage for them.”
Texas A&M is 7-4 against Oral Roberts, which won the last meeting 89-86 in overtime on Nov. 28, 1999.