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January 5, 2010

Defense sets the tone in win over North Dakota

COLLEGE STATION, Texas - On paper it didn't seem like Texas A&M would have much trouble with North Dakota Tuesday night at Reed Arena in A&M's last non-conference game before beginning Big 12 conference play at home Saturday against Nebraska, and the Aggies proved it by making quick work of the Fighting Sioux.

The Aggies (11-3) used 34 points off 25 North Dakota (2-14) turnovers to double up the Fighting Sioux, 82-41, in a game that was as much of a mismatch on the court as it was on paper.

"I thought A&M came out with a sense of urgency and in that first four-minute game they really dominated us physically," said North Dakota head coach Brian Jones. "Their defense really pressured us into some things that our level we just really don't see. But that's always been a strength of Coach Turgeon's programs."

The Aggies raced out to 14-0 lead over the first 4:26 of the game, which was fueled by four steals from sophomore point guard Dash Harris. Harris would finish with a career-high six steals to go along with three points, two rebounds and four assists with just one turnover. Overall A&M had 13 steals in the game.

It was just a microcosm of an Aggie defense that smothered North Dakota from tip-off to buzzer, allowing just 32.5-percent shooting from the field and 4-19 3-point shooting for the Fighting Sioux.

"That was the game plan to try to pressure them so we wouldn't have to guard all the movement, backdoor cuts and things like that," said A&M junior guard B.J. Holmes. "It looks like Dash was able to do it."

A&M was led by Donald Sloan's 19 points while Holmes added 15, shooting 5-7 from the 3-point arc to burst out of a recent slump, and Bryan Davis who had 14 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes.

North Dakota has one double-digit scorer, Derek Benter, who had 11 points.

A&M's defensive performance gives head coach Mark Turgeon hope heading into the gauntlet that is Big 12 conference, ranked as one of the top two conferences in the RPI. Without top defender Derrick Roland for the rest of the season, it's a good sign that the Aggies have come out swinging with smothering defense in their two games since losing Roland.

"I was pleased with our concentration defensively," Turgeon said. "I thought we played 40 minutes, but we had some breakdowns when we subbed a little bit and that happens when you sub a lot like we did in the second half. For the most part we concentrated defensively and it was a great effort there, and we forced a lot of turnovers.

A&M tips off against Nebraska (11-3) Saturday at 3 p.m. at Reed Arena. A&M will also have a visitor for the game - Roland who will be back with his teammates although probably not on the bench just yet.

"I don't know where we're going to put him. I think he's already made up his mind that's the game he's going to come to. He was at shoot around today," Turgeon said. "It's just good to see him and he just keeps getting great reports from the doctors. He's actually putting weight on his leg already with crutches and a boot. It's just great to see him and he's got a great attitude. He knows that we have got to step up the intensity level on Saturday so I'm sure he'll be around."


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