Texas A&M 75, DePaul 72
ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP)—Texas A&M played a nearly flawless first half in building a big lead and then overcame a series of late mistakes to beat DePaul 75-72 in the second round of the NIT.
“We played about as well as we could offensively in the first half,” coach Billy Gillispie said Saturday after his team nearly lost a 20-point lead. “We hung on for dear life and got lucky at the end.”
The Aggies (21-9) will face the winner of Holy Cross and Buffalo-Saint Joseph’s in the third round.
“I’m not ready for it to be done yet,” said senior guard Bobby Leach, who scored 23 points and was involved in two of the biggest plays in the stretch.
Leach gave the Aggies a 73-68 lead with 21.6 seconds left when he made a pair of free throws after a technical foul on DePaul. The Blue Demons had stolen an inbounds pass, but guard LeVar Seals called for a timeout when his team had none left.
“That was very unfortunate, just human emotion,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said.
But Leach nearly gave it right back, fouling Drake Diener on a 3-point attempt a moment later. Diener dropped in all three to cut the lead to 73-71.
“Coach really got on me and I’m just glad we pulled it out,” Leach said.
A&M freshman Dominique Kirk was fouled twice and made two of his four free throws, twice extending the lead to three and giving DePaul (20-11) a chance to tie. But Diener and Sammy Mejia missed 3-pointers in the closing seconds.
“With a shooter like Diener, they’re always in the game. We didn’t think coming out in the second half that it was over,” said Aggies forward Antoine Wright. “It’s fitting it went to the wire.”
Wright had 19 points and Joseph Jones 14 for the Aggies, while Leach had 13 of his points in the second half. A&M won despite missing five free throws in the final minute.
Mejia scored 23, Quemont Greer 20 and Diener 18 for DePaul, which trailed 44-26 at the half.
“We dug ourselves a big hole and we couldn’t get ourselves out of it,” Greer said.
DePaul, which lost its chance at the NCAAs by losing to UAB in the second round of the Conference USA tournament, dropped six of its final 10 games.
Wright hit three 3-pointers and Leach made two and also a layup in the Aggies’ 19-4 first-half run that opened up a 20-point lead.
A&M used a tough first-half defense to smother Diener, who had scored a career-high 30 points in a first-round win over Missouri. With Kirk shadowing Diener and denying him the ball, he didn’t get off a shot in the first 11 minutes, finishing the half with seven points.
DePaul shot just 28 percent on its home floor in the first half, making 7 of 25 shots, while A&M made 16 of 30 (53 percent). The Blue Demons finished at 37 percent to 50 percent for the Aggies.
A&M, which beat Clemson in the first round for its first postseason win in 23 years, took control with a quick 13-0 run that featured seven points from reserve Marlon Pompey and opened up a 22-12 lead.
The game attracted a small but vocal crowd of 4,112 at the All-State Arena. In five days the same arena will be overflowing when it hosts the semifinals and finals of the NCAA’s Chicago Regional.