COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon had to convince the Aggies that a win is what matters, not the margin of victory.
Khris Middleton scored 13 points and No. 18 Texas A&M overcame a double-digit deficit to beat McNeese State 66-57 on Friday.
The Aggies (12-1) trailed 28-18 with 7:51 remaining in the first half, and 37-30 at halftime before mounting a comeback for their ninth straight win.
"I talked to our players at halftime about not panicking -- that we can't win every game by 20 points," Turgeon said. "We got back to being us in the second half. We had a little too much time off [for Christmas], and kind of a lackadaisical attitude at the start of the game."
The Aggies, who shot 38.5 percent from the field (20 of 52), hadn't played since an 86-51 victory over Wagner on Dec. 21.
"Blame it on the Christmas rust," Turgeon said of Friday's sloppy showing, especially on the offensive end.
The Cowboys (8-5) led 44-39 with 14:28 remaining in the game before the Aggies went on a 14-3 run over the next 7 minutes to lead 53-47.
The Aggies allowed their most points by an opponent in a first half (37) this season, only to counter by allowing only 20 in the second half -- tying their mark for fewest points in a half by an opponent this season.
"We came in and fought hard," McNeese State coach Dave Simmons said. "We knew this was a tough environment, and I was a little nervous about their rebounding -- they've got depth and size and everything we expected. But we gave them our best punch in the first half."
A&M, which entered the game ranked fifth nationally in rebounding margin (plus 12.1), outrebounded smaller McNeese 36-30. A&M outscored McNeese 32-22 in the paint -- a big difference in the otherwise statistically similar contest.
"I was surprised by how many shots they were hitting -- and their range," A&M forward Ray Turner said of McNeese, which hit 5 of 8 3-pointers in the first half. "In the second half we had to make sure that didn't happen again."
The Aggies did hold a sizable advantage at the free throw line, where they made 23 of 29, compared to 5 of 8 for the Cowboys.
"They didn't shoot very well [from the field], but they were able to get to the free throw line," Simmons said. "They took it inside more than we did."
The game wasn't decided until A&M guard Dash Harris drained a 16-foot jumper as the shot clock expired to make it 60-53 with 2:10 remaining. B.J. Holmes quickly followed with a 3-pointer that iced A&M's 59th consecutive nonconference victory at Reed Arena.
The Aggies next host Nicholls State on Monday night, before opening Big 12 play at Oklahoma on Jan. 8.
"We're not ready today for Big 12 play, but we will be," Turgeon said, citing the sizable layoff for Christmas break. "We've got plenty of time to get ourselves ready for [Oklahoma]."
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