COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- This was a statement game.
Sure, the numbers all indicated Texas A&M was supposed to win. The Aggies were ranked fifth in the country; Iowa State came in at No. 14; and the game was at Reed Arena in College Station.
But coach Billy Kennedy’s Aggies, without making a ton of shots, showed they are a legitimate Final Four contender with a quality defensive effort on Saturday afternoon.
Aggies' defense gives them a chance
Texas A&M held a high-powered Iowa State team to just 62 points. Georges Niang was the lone Cyclones starter to score in double digits.
“With the way they guard, I think they can play with anyone,” Iowa State guard Matt Thomas said.
It’s a Texas A&M team that entered the game ranked second in the nation in defensive efficiency.
“They do a good job of sagging and playing the gaps,” Niang said. “You have to make outside shots to beat them.”
Iowa State made just 6 of 23 from beyond the arc on Saturday.
Thomas and his Cyclones teammates now have played four teams ranked in this past week’s top five: Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas and Texas A&M.
Kennedy has a four veterans -- including three transfers -- in the starting lineup: Two are fifth-year kids -- Anthony Collins and Jalen Jones -- and the other two are seniors -- Alex Caruso and Danuel House. The other is Davis, who does not play like a first-year guy.
Underrated big man
Davis was 350 pounds his freshman year of high school. Now he’s 260. He sought out Niang after the win, largely because of the respect he has had for Iowa State’s senior, who has also lost a significant amount of weight recently.
But Niang was blown away by Davis, the mature 6-foot-10 big man whose commitment a couple of years ago helped trigger a four-man recruiting class that added a major jolt to the A&M program.
“If he keeps working, he’s going to be the best big man in the country,” Niang said. “He has tremendous upside. He’s got great touch, is aggressive, fearless. You don’t see freshmen like him out there who don’t get rattled.”
Davis, who came into the game averaging 11.3 points and 5.9 rebounds, finished with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and also grabbed six rebounds in 22 minutes.
Niang, McKay not 100 percent
Niang injured his foot in the loss and suffered a left hip contusion. He was banged up but remained in the game and said he’ll be fine for the home game against West Virginia on Tuesday night.
“Nothing’s going to slow me down,” Niang said. “I’ll be OK.”
Iowa State senior forward Jameel McKay has been dealing with tendinitis in his left knee for the past few weeks. He injured it initially in practices and hasn’t felt 100 percent since. McKay said much of the time he isn’t bothered by it, but it was clear on one missed dunk attempt that he is hindered at times.
“I barely got up,” McKay said.
Iowa State coach Steve Prohm worked for Kennedy at Centenary, Southeastern Louisiana and Murray State. When Prohm was at Centenary, he was a volunteer assistant who didn’t make a dime. He lived in the “dungeon,” which is what the dorms were referred to back then.
“Luckily, the meal plan was really good,” Prohm joked.
Both said that facing each other on Saturday was surreal.
“We’ve both been lucky,” Kennedy said. “Fortunate. I owe a lot to him.”
Iowa State’s Deonte Burton gave Prohm a much-needed boost off the bench. The key for the Marquette transfer, who was playing in his 12th game after being eligible at the break, is consistency.
Burton has had his moments -- 19 points against Oklahoma; 14 points at Texas; and 11 points and four boards in 19 minutes on Saturday. But he has also disappeared at times.
The key for Burton is coming out with energy, which he did on Saturday, and also being in the right spots on the defensive end. He can certainly be an X factor for the team.
No shot of Naz returning
I held out hope that maybe Cyclones' senior guard Naz Long would get healthy enough to return from two hip surgeries in the offseason. But Long told me before the game that he is definitely done for the year, will take the medical redshirt and come back next season.
Long said he decided to shut it down in mid-December because felt he was hurting the team. Long’s absence is missed -- not just for his perimeter shooting but also his leadership on the court. Long and Niang are clearly the two leaders of this team, with Monte Morris also helping in that regard.