AMES, Iowa -- Texas A&M's Donald Sloan put it best: There's a fine line between winning and losing in the brutal Big 12.
Sloan and his teammates seem intent on bending that line as much as they can.
He scored 14 points and Texas A&M (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP) held off Iowa State 60-56 on Saturday for its fifth win in six games.
Khris Middleton added 12 points for the Aggies (19-7, 8-4 Big 12), who bounced back from a close loss to top-ranked Kansas on Monday with their seventh straight win over the Cyclones.
The Aggies have won their last three road games -- by a total of just nine points. It's not exactly the way Aggies would have drawn it up, but Sloan believes it's a good sign with March just around the corner.
"You have a different feeling when you win a close one," Sloan said. "It's a thin line between losing in the Big 12 -- whether it's three points or whatever -- and we've been able to be on the other side of that fine line."
Texas A&M let a 10-point lead dwindle to 54-53 before David Loubeau's inside basket gave the Aggies a 56-53 lead with 1:10 left. Sloan and Middleton then hit four straight free throws to put Texas A&M ahead 60-53 with 17 seconds left.
"We're just all a little heartbroken. It's right there, and we know we need to make that one extra play and we got it," said Iowa State center Justin Hamilton, who had eight points and 12 rebounds
Much like in recent road wins over Missouri and Texas Tech, the Aggies had to sweat this one out.
Iowa State held Texas A&M scoreless for nearly 5 minutes and rallied to pull within 54-53 on two free throws by Garrett with 2:31 left. But Cyclones star Craig Brackins grazed the rim with a jumper following Loubeau's basket, forcing the Cyclones to put the Aggies on the line.
Sloan and Middleton calmly made their free throws, a trait common for teams used to winning ugly. Gilstrap hit a 3 and Iowa State got a turnover off A&M's inbounds try, but the Cyclones couldn't get a decent look before the buzzer sounded.
"We didn't finish this game the way we wanted to finish it," Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon said. "We made a few mistakes, but I thought our defense was really good, too, and that was the difference."
Points were hard to come by for both teams, but that was to be expected. Iowa State and Texas A&M came into the game ranked 10th and 11th, respectively, in the Big 12 in scoring offense.
The Aggies got a bit of breathing room midway through the second half, though. Middleton's dunk capped a 7-0 spurt that gave Texas A&M its biggest lead to that point, 47-39, with 9:38 left.
Texas A&M's B.J. Holmes then made a layup to make it 54-44 with 5:58 left. It would take nearly 5 minutes for the Aggies to score again.
The Aggies held a slim lead for most of the first half. They went into the break ahead 31-28 despite shooting 37.9 percent from the field.
The Cyclones frontcourt duo of Brackins and Gilstrap combined to shoot 9-of-30 from the field. It was the second straight rough outing for Brackins, who scored 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
Brackins was 3-of-17 from the field in a 69-64 loss to Oklahoma State on Wednesday.
"I was mad because I was hoping I would get the 3-for-17," Turgeon joked. "He's playing a lot of minutes, a lot of pressure on him to score for that team."
Texas A&M may not be a pretty 8-4 in the Big 12, but it's an impressive 8-4 considering that the Aggies lost guard and senior leader Derrick Roland to a broken leg on Dec. 22
Texas A&M will have a lot to say about who emerges from the muddled pack below Kansas in the league standings, with games against Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State coming up in the next two weeks.
The Aggies will likely have to play better than they did Saturday if it hopes to survive that stretch. The Aggies shot 39.6 percent and had 13 turnovers against just eight assists.
"If you would have told me we'd be 8-4 after [Roland] went down, and some of the things that have happened to us, I would have said I'd take it," Turgeon said. "With that said, you never know when your next win is coming in this league. So we've got to get better."