COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP)—An early injury to standout guard Khris Middleton hardly slowed down Texas A&M.
Ray Turner scored a career-high 20 points and the 20th-ranked Aggies shot 65 percent from the field while cruising past Liberty 81-59 on Wednesday night in the season opener for both teams.
“We came out and ran the floor just like we’ve been doing in practice,” Turner said. “We’ve just got to keep playing consistent, hard, and not give up on loose-ball plays. We’ve got to keep the intensity up.”
Texas A&M played without first-year coach Billy Kennedy, on leave following his recent diagnosis of an early stage of Parkinson’s disease. Associate head coach Glynn Cyprien has run the team in Kennedy’s absence.
Kennedy has visited the arena daily over the past week and Cyprien has said the coach is expected back full-time “soon.” Kennedy was at Reed Arena for the game and talked to the team in the locker room afterward, Cyprien said.
Middleton left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury and is day to day, Cyprien said. Middleton played 10 minutes and scored six points.
Texas A&M put away the Flames early with a 24-4 run midway through the first half. The Aggies shot 59.3 percent (16 of 27) from the field in the first half and jumped to a 37-14 lead at the break before a crowd of 6,118.
“The guys played hard, and we were able to play a lot of guys a lot of minutes,” Cyprien said. “The game plan was to play inside out, to get our big men involved early and work off of them.”
Elston Turner had 16 points and David Loubeau added 14 for the Aggies, who began their 100th season in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. Next up, they host Southern on Sunday.
Texas A&M has won 61 straight non-conference home games dating to 2005.
David Minaya led Liberty with 14 points.
With the game well in hand, the Aggies shot 72 percent (18 of 25) in the second half and finished at 65.4 percent from the floor (34 for 52), the fifth-highest mark in school history. Still, the Flames outscored the Aggies 45-44 in the second half.
The Aggies outrebounded the Flames 39-29, with Elston Turner, Ray Turner and Keith Davis grabbing six boards apiece.
A&M is one of 12 teams in the country that has been to six consecutive NCAA tournaments.
“Their length and athleticism bothered us in the first half,” Liberty coach Dale Layer said. “We played much more aggressive in the second half. We’ve gotten better over the last 24 hours. I’m not disappointed in our effort, just that we couldn’t make enough shots to make it a game.”
The Flames’ 14 points over the first 20 minutes was the fourth-lowest total by a Texas A&M opponent in a first half. The Aggies have won 11 consecutive season openers and a dozen straight home openers.