Mark Turgeon admitted his Texas A&M team played well in the NIT Season Tip-Off last week. Now he expects his ninth-ranked Aggies to continue to improve as a challenging stretch of their schedule continues Wednesday at home versus Alabama.
Texas A&M (6-0) returns to Reed Arena after impressive victories over Syracuse and 2007 NCAA tournament finalist Ohio State in New York. The Aggies won the title with a suffocating 70-47 victory over the Buckeyes on Friday, holding Ohio State to one basket in an 11 1/2-minute stretch of the second half and 24.1 percent shooting overall.
“It was 68-38 and I was like, ‘Wow,’ and I didn’t feel like it was a great matchup,” Turgeon said. “I was really concerned going into that game and we handled it. I thought we tried to guard and do our game plan. I was pleased with the poise we played with on offense.
“It’s a sign of everybody maturing and coming together. They’re much more confident than they were a week ago.”
That confidence will be essential this week against both the Crimson Tide (3-1) and at Arizona, where the Aggies play in the inaugural Pac-10/Big 12 Challenge on Sunday. One player Turgeon is hoping will continue to progress is freshman center DeAndre Jordan, whom the coach has assigned to defend Alabama star forward Richard Hendrix.
“(Jordan) played with more intelligence and a sense of urgency on defense,” Turgeon said of the 7-footer, who’s averaging 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting a stunning 85.3 percent (29-for-34). “He’s getting it, he was tremendous in practice. Two months ago, he’d almost crawl in a corner and pout, now he accepts coaching. We’re going to put him on Hendrix and hopefully keep Joe (Jones) out of foul trouble.”
Hendrix will present a formidable challenge for Jordan and the Aggies. The junior forward has recorded double-doubles in each of his four games, averaging 23.8 points, 14.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while making 71.2 percent (37-for-52) of his attempts, and has some familiarity with Aggies swingman Josh Carter, whom Hendrix and Tide forward Alonzo Gee played with at the Pan Am Games trials over the summer.
“He’s a good player, a really good athlete,” Hendrix said of Carter, who is shooting 42.4 percent from 3-point range and averaging 13.0 points. “He can shoot the ball. He was obviously good enough to make the first cut at the trials, so he’s a player to reckon with.”
Gee is contributing 15.0 points per game, and the Tide are averaging 84.0 points despite the absence of star point guard Ronald Steele, who is being redshirted this season due to a knee injury. Alabama is still looking for an offensive identity on the perimeter, shooting just 30 percent (21-for-70) from 3-point range.
Last season, Steele shot 41.4 percent from beyond the arc, and Alabama made 209 3s.
The Crimson Tide have won five of their last seven games against ranked opponents, but have not defeated a Top 10 team since a 92-79 home victory over then-No. 8 Tennessee on Feb. 18, 2006. They have not defeated a Top 10 team on the road since a 77-73 win at Mississippi State on Feb. 21, 2004.
Alabama leads the all-time series 6-1, but the teams have not met since Texas A&M posted a 65-58 victory in the 1998-99 season.