A&M needed more Sloan in loss to KU
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- How do you tell the best player on a club that prides itself on team ball to be selfish?
Magnificent in this Big 12 tournament as he has been during his entire senior season, it would have behooved Donald Sloan to go against his nature in Friday night's 79-66 loss to top-seeded Kansas. The fourth-seeded Aggies found themselves in an old-fashioned slobber-knocker of a semifinal on the Jayhawks' turf, and the tough Aggies were handling everything thrown at them.
An impressive start to the second half saw A&M go ahead by nine three minutes in, but during those opening moments Sloan picked up his second and third fouls within 51 seconds of each other.
Sloan's third came at the 17:22 mark and the Aggies leading, 44-37. Coach Mark Turgeon immediately subbed his star out, and Kansas immediately bolted on a 9-3 run over the next 3:10.
Timeout, A&M. Still, the Aggies had the lead, 47-46, and Sloan was at the scorer's table checking in.
With 10:32 to play, Sloan swished a couple free throws for a 55-51 lead. After Sloan hit the second free throw, Turgeon subbed him out again.
"I didn't want him to pick up his fourth. I took him out," Turgeon said. "I was going to try to get him to last to the eight-minute mark. He didn't sit there long."
Exactly one minute, nine seconds. In that brief time with Sloan on the bench, Kansas' Xavier Henry hit a 3-pointer and Brady Morningstar made a steal to set up a Morris Markieff layup and a 56-55 lead.
"We started to panic a little bit which we don't do, but we did today," said Turgeon, who refused to pin that on playing without injured starting point guard Dash Harris. "I just didn't want him to pick up his fourth [foul] with 10 minutes to go. I think if I could have gotten him to the eight-minute mark, we were good. But, his third foul was big. It was really big."
Amazing, with Sloan on the bench for two stints and a total of 4:19, Kansas outscored A&M, 14-3.
"When he got his third foul and went to the bench, that was a positive for us, like it would be for anybody when you take the best player off a team and sit him down a little bit," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "They rely on him a lot."
Still, the game was right there.
Sloan checked back in to find Kansas switching out of man-to-man defense and into an active zone. Sloan buried a jumper with 8:54 left to put A&M back in front, 57-56. The next time he would score, at the 4:23 mark, Sloan stepped to the free throw line having not attempted a field goal in that stretch and staring at a 72-57 deficit.
"I was actually trying to get other guys shots, B.J., Khris, trying to hit B.D. [Bryan Davis] in the middle, kind of giving other guys the opportunity to make plays because I did feel like KU was keying on me while they were in that zone. And we had great opportunities all night and just fell short in the end."
Naji Hibbert missed a 3-pointer and B.J. Holmes and Khris Middleton both missed two. Kansas' zone flustered the Aggies -- Sloan had two of A&M's three turnovers in that stretch -- and effectively forced the ball out of Sloan's hands.
Holmes (12 points) and Middleton (14 points) got good looks, but they didn't fall. They combined to go 4-of-12 from the field in the second half. Sloan had 13 at halftime, hitting one 3-pointer and seemingly willing his way into the lane and hitting a variety of creative tear drops and runners. He scored his 19th point of a team-high 24 when hit the jumper for the lead at 8:54.
Had Sloan been able to be a bit greedier, a tad more selfish, allow A&M to live or die with the ball in his hands when the offense went cold and the game lost, maybe, just maybe, the outcome is different.
"We're a very team-oriented group," Sloan said. "Kansas played excellent defense, but I touched the ball, to say the least. I had touches."
The loss won't take away from what the Aggies gained in a physical romp that was closer than the final score indicated. The game got chippy on several occasions, with the teams gathering at mid-court at one point. A&M's Davis, battling all game with Kansas' big center Cole Aldrich and the muscular Morris brothers, picked up a technical as did Kansas' Markieff Morris.
The Aggies are headed to the NCAA tournament for a fifth consecutive season. Man to man, they are not the most talented team, but they go in knowing they won't be pushed around by anyone.
"We're a very tough team. We don't back down from anybody," Davis said. "We're going to fight until the end."