DALLAS (AP)—Stuck in the middle of a bench-clearing scuffle, Texas A&M standout Khris Middleton held his arms high above his head trying to stay out of the fray—and make sure the referees knew he was.
Once everything got sorted out and play resumed, Middleton and the rejuvenated 25th-ranked Aggies overcame a nine-point deficit and went on to a 71-62 overtime win over Arkansas on Saturday for their seventh straight victory.
“It woke us up mainly,” Middleton said. “It let us know we weren’t going to let these guys push us around.”
The first meeting between the old Southwest Conference rivals in 20 seasons got feisty when the Aggies (10-1) were calling a timeout after Arkansas scored the first seven points of the second half for a 42-33 lead.
Middleton scored 19 of his 31 points after that, including the go-ahead free throw in overtime.
The scuffle began when A&M’s Dash Harris was knocked to the ground when fouled by Jeff Peterson as he was crossing midcourt just as Aggies coach Mark Turgeon was calling a timeout.
“We were sleepwalking,” Turgeon said. “(The scuffle) seemed like it really changed the game for us.”
After Middleton tried to help the players up, one of his teammates got pushed into Peterson after Arkansas players were already coming off the bench to greet their teammates for the fast start. The pushing and shoving then escalated at midcourt near the scorer’s table though no punches were thrown.
It took the officials more than 10 minutes to sort out the situation. They looked at several replays, taking notes on a piece of paper. Arkansas’ Marvell Waithe and Kourtney Roberson of Texas A&M were ejected for coming off the bench and getting involved in the fracas.
“I don’t know if something changed,” Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. “We had to sit there as long as they did.”
Soon after play resumed, Harris had a steal and was heading to the basket when he passed to Middleton trailing him for a basket. Rotnei Clarke responded with a 3-pointer for the Razorbacks, giving them their biggest lead at 45-35.
Texas A&M finally caught up when David Loubeau’s free throw with 4:17 left in regulation tied the game 58-all. The next score was Middleton’s two free throws with 2:05 left that gave A&M its first lead of the second half.
Arkansas’ last field goal of regulation came when Mardracus Wade had a breakaway layup for a 58-52 lead with 6:43 left. The Razorbacks forced overtime when Julysses Nobles made two free throws with 1:06 left.
“It came down to two defensive teams that couldn’t score and we made more free throws than they did,” Turgeon said. “Our defense the last 10 minutes of the game was tremendous.”
The scuffle only added to an ugly game that included 42 turnovers, 51 fouls and no field goals for either team the rest of regulation after Middleton had consecutive baskets for the Aggies, the last with 5:42 left.
Arkansas missed 12 free throws in the game. That included two misses by Clarke, a career 86-percent shooter, when the Razorbacks could have grabbed the lead midway through overtime.
Middleton’s free throw with 3:48 left in overtime broke the 60-all tie, and put Texas A&M ahead to stay. There wasn’t another score until Loubeau hit a short jumper after taking an inbound pass from Middleton with 2:10 left.
Middleton was 10 of 16 from the field
“You could see it early, he felt it,” Turgeon said. “We ran a lot of plays for him. He was fantastic. He just didn’t have any help. “
Nathan Walkup had 15 points and was the only other player in double figures for the Aggies, who played for the first time since entering the AP Top 25 for the first time this season last Monday.
Clarke had 14 points with four 3-pointers to lead Arkansas, which had won four straight. Nobles scored 12 points.
Texas A&M had led throughout most of the first half until Nobles drove for a layup to give Arkansas a 35-33 at the halftime buzzer.
“It hurts to get this close and not be able to pull it off,” Pelphrey said.
Texas A&M, which has won 10 of its last 14 games away from home, played its first regular season neutral-site game in Dallas since playing TCU at then brand-new Reunion Arena during the 1980-81 season. The site of that since-demolished building is just down the road from the American Airlines Center, where the Aggies played Saturday.
The schools played for the 148th time, the first time since a SWC tournament game at old Reunion Arena in Dallas in March 1991. Arkansas had won the last six meetings, and nine of 10, and has won 96 times in the series.
“This was a big game for Arkansas,” Turgeon said. `We’ve got a bullseye on our backs and that’s OK.”