Texas A&M has played relatively well since Khris Middleton was injured in its season opener. It expects to be even better with the star forward back on the floor.
Middleton is slated to return to the court Saturday night when the 22nd-ranked Aggies look to continue their non-conference home dominance against Louisiana-Monroe.The 6-foot-7 Middleton averaged a team-high 14.4 points along with 5.2 rebounds last season, but suffered a knee injury in the first half of Texas A&M's 81-59 season-opening victory over Liberty on Nov. 9.The Aggies (7-1) have held their own without Middleton, mostly against weaker competition. Their only defeat came against Mississippi State, 69-60 at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 17.Middleton's return should give Texas A&M every reason to believe it will continue to improve and possibly challenge for a Big 12 title."With Khris it will definitely make us better in a lot of ways," first-year coach Billy Kennedy told Texas A&M's official athletics website. "Just his presence, our guys have confidence with him on the floor. We're looking forward to getting him back on the court."Middleton will try to help the Aggies extend their non-conference winning streak at Reed Arena to 67 games."The return of Khris will help a lot because it opens up the floor a little bit," Kennedy said. "People don't have to just focus on one guy."Ray Turner had 15 points with 10 rebounds while Elston Turner added 14 points and David Loubeau scored 11 in Texas A&M's 64-37 home win over Sam Houston State on Wednesday.Among the national leaders defensively, allowing 51.1 points per contest and holding opponents to 32.9 percent shooting, the Aggies yielded their fewest points of the season while limiting the Bearkats to 25.0 percent (15 of 60) from the field and 4 of 24 from 3-point range.Texas A&M also held a 50-31 rebounding advantage and outscored Sam Houston State 34-16 in the paint."Defense is what we want to base this team on, and that's been the history of the program," said Kennedy, whose team has held its last four opponents to a combined 28.5 percent shooting. "We still have a long way to go, but when you're holding people down like that regardless of the quality of the opponent, that's good to see."Louisiana-Monroe has averaged 56.3 points and shot 36.6 percent during a three-game losing streak to Texas A&M. The Warhawks -- then known as the Indians -- went 14 of 53 (26.4 percent) from the field in a 78-36 loss in College Station in the teams' most recent meeting Dec. 15, 2004.One game after shooting a season-high 62.0 percent in an 86-65 victory over Nicholls, Louisiana-Monroe (1-7) was not nearly as accurate in a 73-71 loss to Louisiana Tech last Saturday.Senior Fred Brown, averaging 15.8 points per game, had 17 for the Warhawks. He scored a team-high 21 points in Louisiana-Monroe's 78-63 loss at then-No. 24 Mississippi State on Nov. 21.The Warhawks have dropped 15 straight games against Top 25 opponents since the beginning of the 1997-98 season.