Aggies bounce back against Kansas State

Austin Laymance

Texas A&M got back on the winning track Saturday, fighting off Kansas State 64-56 at home. The Aggies got their groove back against the Wildcats after an embarrassing 21-point loss to Texas in their previous outing.

Sophomore forward Khris Middleton led Texas A&M with 18 points, draining eight free throws in the final two minutes to secure the victory. Kansas State cut the A&M lead to two with just under a minute to play, but the Aggies went 9-for-10 from the line during the final 45 seconds to fend off the scrappy Wildcats. The win improved Texas A&M to 17-2, the best start for the Aggies since they began the 1919-20 season 19-0.

Texas A&M sits behind Texas atop the Big 12 standings, the Aggies’ 4-1 conference start matches the best in school history. Texas A&M will be looking to hand Nebraska its first home loss of the season when the two face off Saturday in Lincoln. The Aggies’ loss to the Longhorns was their first since a two-point defeat against Boston College on Thanksgiving. But the Aggies won’t have long to wait before getting another shot at Texas. the rivalry resumes Monday when the Longhorns invade College Station.

<strong>Freshman tearing up Big 12</strong>

Baylor freshman Perry Jones continued his dominant play in conference Saturday with a 24-point, eight rebound performance to lead the Bears past visiting Oklahoma State 76-57. It was Jones’ fourth 20-point game in five Big 12 outings.

The Duncanville native, a sure top-five NBA draft pick should he become Baylor’s first one-and-done player, is averaging 19.8 points per game against conference foes while shooting a blistering 71 percent from the field.

On Saturday, Jones displayed the athleticism and skill that has pro scouts drooling. During a span of 71 seconds, the freshman scored seven points. Jones took a pass from A.J. Walton and slammed it home in time to beat the shot clock, then buried a step-back jumper before getting out on a fast break and finishing an alley-oop pass from Walton with a monster dunk while being fouled — Jones made the free throw to extend Baylor’s lead to 13.

Jones hasn’t wasted any time getting acclimated to play in the Big 12. In his conference debut, the 19-year-old shot 8-for-9 from the field and finished with 20 points. He followed with a 25-point outburst against Oklahoma. Jones also proved he can play against top competitors, scoring 20 points against Kansas.

<strong>Big 12 among basketball’s elite</strong>

Traditionally, the elite basketball conferences include the Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10 and ACC. But with four schools ranked in the top 15 of the AP poll, the Big 12 is making a case for the best basketball division top to bottom.

This season, the Big 12 has posted its best non-conference winning percentage (.805) in league history. Since Jan. 1, Big 12 teams are 18-1 against non-conference opponents — Texas’ one-point overtime loss at home to Connecticut being the lone the blemish. Big 12 schools have also won 62 of 73 non-league games since Dec. 8. The Big 12 is second in the nation in non-conference wins (140), only the Big East — which has four more teams — has more. But Big 12 teams aren’t just scheduling weak non-conference opponents — the conference has the nation’s best record against top-25 non-league foes.

But it isn’t just the league’s top ranked squads (No. 6 Kansas, No. 7 Texas, No. 11 Missouri, No. 13 Texas A&M) that justify the conference’s elite status. The Big 12 has 10 teams with 13 wins or more, including nine schools with at least a .700 win percentage — both totals that are tied for the most of any conference in the country.