Missouri 74, Texas A&M 68
DALLAS (AP)—Jason Conley hit consecutive 3-pointers during a 9-0 run late in the second half, sending Missouri past Texas A&M 74-68 in the first round of the Big 12 tournament and ending the six-year tenure of Aggies coach Melvin Watkins.
Watkins announced Wednesday that he was resigning after A&M’s next loss. It was no surprise that it came so quickly as the Aggies (7-21) lost their 19th straight conference game. They’ve lost 11 straight in conference tournaments, starting with the 1994 Southwest Conference finals.
Missouri (16-12) will play No. 18 Kansas on Friday night. The Jayhawks beat the Tigers 84-82 on Sunday.
The rematch gives Missouri a great chance to bolster its hopes of making the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight year. The Tigers were ranked No. 3 early this season, but plummeted to 9-10 in early February. They’ve worked their way back into consideration by winning seven of nine.
Watkins’ Aggies played hard to the end.
A&M led by nine in the opening minutes, but trailed by five at halftime. Down seven early in the second half, the Aggies rallied to lead 54-53 with 7:42 left on a free throw by Antoine Wright, who scored 22 points.
Then the Tigers snapped into action. A perfectly timed putback by Rickey Paulding put Missouri back ahead and Conley’s 3-pointers stretched the lead. A free throw by Jimmy McKinney capped the run, leaving Mizzou up 62-54.
A&M hurt itself with turnovers before each of Conley’s baskets. The second miscue was Kevin Turner dribbling the ball out of bounds off his foot. Watkins took him out after that, stopping him on his way to the bench for a hug and some encouraging words.
The Aggies were able to keep things interesting until the end, getting within 69-66 with 1:48 left. When it ended, Watkins bit him bottom lip, congratulated the nearest Missouri player, then hugged Tigers coach Quin Snyder and shook hands with the rival staff.
Watkins leaves with a mark of 60-112, 21-76 in conference play. He lost his final 17, with his last win coming Jan. 6 against Long Island.
McKinney led Missouri with 20 points, hitting 5-of-6 shots—all 3-pointers. Arthur Johnson, coming off a 37-point game against the Jayhawks, added 14 points and Travon Bryant had 16 points and nine rebounds.
Wright scored 14 of A&M’s first 18 points, helping the Aggies lead 20-11. He made six of his first seven shots, then made only 2-of-8 the rest of the game.
Acie Law IV scored 10 points and Nick Anderson had 14 rebounds.
Missouri went from a bottom-six seed to the tournament finals last season, but lost to Oklahoma in the title game. Now the Tigers again have a chance to become the first team in Big 12 tourney history to win four games in four days.