COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Khris Middleton returned to the lineup for Texas A&M (No. 25 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) on Saturday night after missing the previous seven games with a torn meniscus in his right knee.
It didn't take very long for Middleton to establish himself again.Middleton scored 14 of his 24 points in the second half, leading the Aggies to a 67-54 victory over Louisiana-Monroe."It felt good to be back," he said. "Just sitting there and watching practice for three weeks and seeing where I could be helping my teammates -- I just wanted to be out there."The Aggies (8-1) and Warhawks (1-8) were tied at 43 with 13:19 remaining. But Middletown scored four points in an 11-0 run that gave Texas A&M a 54-43 advantage."He was the story of the game, and really flexed his muscles in the second half," ULM coach Keith Richard said. "He took that thing over."Hugh Mingo had 21 points and nine rebounds for Louisiana-Monroe, which shot 37.3 percent (22 of 59) from the floor.The Aggies have held all nine of their opponents under 41 percent shooting. But coach Billy Kennedy wasn't pleased with the play of his big men."We have to do a better job overall on the defensive end, and tonight our post guys struggled defensively," Kennedy said. "We had to go small in the first half because of that."The 6-foot-7 Middleton scored at least 20 points in a game for the fourth time in his career and first time this season. He averaged a team-high 14.4 points per game last season."When he's out there it helps open up a lot of the offense and teams have to pay attention to multiple guys," A&M guard Elston Turner said. "With Khris and I on the outside and David Loubeau and Ray Turner on the inside, that's a pretty tough matchup for anyone. It's good to have him back, and it was easy to see he was ready for this game."The Warhawks have struggled throughout the season, but kept the game tight by outscoring the Aggies 16-5 over the first five minutes of the second half, rallying from a 38-27 halftime deficit. But A&M, led by Middleton, regrouped and outscored ULM 24-11 the rest of the way."We've been a poor defensive team this year, and haven't been too bad on offense," Richard said. "But I thought we did a decent job defensively against the Aggies."The smaller Warhawks tried making up for their size disadvantage by gunning from the outside, but finished 5 of 24 (20.8 percent) from the 3-point range. The Aggies made just as many in about half the attempts (5 of 13 for 38.5 percent).The Aggies won their 67th consecutive nonconference home game and will meet Florida on Saturday in the MetroPCS Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise, Fla.ULM had played at three Southeastern Conference opponents before facing its first Big 12 opponent this season, and Saturday's 13-point differential was the closest of the four games.