COLLEGE STATION -- Josh Carter scored 23 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer, and No. 15 Texas A&M held off a plucky UTEP team for a 81-76 win Wednesday night in the preseason NIT.
Carter's 3-pointer with 2:15 left put A&M ahead 71-68. UTEP got a pair of free throws from Marvin Kilgore before Derrick Roland's layup put made it 73-70.
Bryan Davis got a steal to set up Dominique Kirk's jumper to push A&M's lead to 75-70 with 50 seconds left. Roland forced a UTEP turnover on the next possession and hit a free throw and Donald Sloan added a free throw to make it 77-70.
Just like they had all night, the Miners didn't give up and Stefon Jackson's 3 with 13 seconds remaining cut the lead to 77-73. Kirk made two free throws before Randy Culpepper's 3 with five second left made it 79-76.
The Miners were finally put away for good with a dunk by Joseph Jones with a second left. Jones had 15 points and Kirk had 14.
Two baskets in a row by Jackson had pushed UTEP's lead to 66-62 before Davis and Carter hit consecutive shots to tie it with about 5 minutes left.
A 3-pointer by Roland followed by a long 2 by Jones put the Aggies ahead 59-58 with 8:31 remaining. It was the first time Texas A&M (3-0) had led since it was up 29-28 with six minutes left in the first half.
The Miners (2-1) were led by Jackson who had 27 points.
Carter cut UTEP's lead to 54-50 on a 3-pointer with about 13 minutes to go. Freshman DeAndre Jordan got A&M the ball back when he swatted Jackson's shot away. Jordan was fouled by Jeremy Sampson and drew a technical for arguing the call.
Carter, who hit four 3s, made one of the free throws on the technical and Jordan added a free throw to make it 54-52 with about 11 minutes left.
UTEP led by 10 when the Aggies scored six straight points, sparked by a 3 by Carter to make it 46-42 three minutes into the second half. The Miners answered by going on a 5-0 run to push the lead back to 10 about three minutes later.
The Miners made eight 3-pointers in the first half and that hot shooting gave them a 42-34 halftime lead. Texas A&M overcame a 10-point deficit to take a 29-28 lead with about 6 minutes left in the first half. A quick 3 by Culpepper put UTEP back on top and they led the rest of the half. Culpepper finished with 16 points and Kilgore added 14.
The Aggies made just 10 field goals and missed seven free throws in the first half.
This was the first meeting between these teams since UTEP won 60-40 in El Paso in 1981 and A&M's first win over the Miners.
The Aggies move on to the NIT semifinals next week at Madison Square Garden with the win.
Postgame Quotes & Notes
Texas A&M Head Coach Mark Turgeon: “That was one heck of a college basketball game. I had fun out there, but not when they were up by 10. UTEP was fantastic from beginning to end. We had trouble guarding their offense. I’m really proud of our guys. I’m also really proud of our big three veterans. We really executed at a high level. I was proud of how we played defensively in the second half. We needed a game like that. We talked at halftime about having to prove ourselves every year. Our guys did a good job of coming together and getting it done tonight. It was a good win, a heck of a game, in a great environment.”
Texas A&M Junior Forward Josh Carter: “We just had to stay with it. They came out making everything. We just had to look at each other, unite, and all come together as one to go win a ballgame. I think this is really good for us. It helps us know we can come from behind. We loved the crowd. The fans always play a big part in the game. We’re excited about going to New York City. (on his role as a shooter) I like that role. You have to take big shots and make big shots. Hopefully, I make more than I miss.”
Texas A&M Senior Center Joe Jones: “We needed everybody to step up. Coach told us to stay confident in our offense and keep playing good defense. Our motto is play together. We had to come together and battle to get the victory.”
Texas A&M Senior Guard Dominique Kirk: “It was a very physical game. They had a good game plan. They made every shot in the first half. We played a better second half. (Josh) Carter stepped up big for us. Coach told us we had to play together. We went out in the second half and did it.”
UTEP Head Coach Tony Barbee: “We have some good shooters on this team. We work on it everyday. It’s a big part of our offense. We got some good looks and we knocked them down and we got some tough looks and we knocked them down. We had our opportunities. When you go on the road against a top 15 team like A&M you have to take what they give to you. A&M is a tough tournament tested team. They made their plays down the stretch and we didn’t. We used our speed against them and wore them out a little bit, but it wasn’t enough. They’re huge. A&M is a tough tournament tested team. With this team and what we hope to accomplish this year, there is no such thing as a moral victory. We just didn’t get it done.”
UTEP Senior Guard Marvin Kilgore: “I thought we played good. We just didn’t finish down the stretch. There are no moral victories. We expected to win this game. This loss hurts.”
*With the win, Texas A&M advances to the semifinals of the Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off on Nov. 21 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Aggies will face the winner of the Washington-Utah game. The other semifinal pits Syracuse against Ohio State. The championship game is set for Nov. 23.
*The Aggies have had one previous appearance at Madison Square Garden, dropping a 66-52 decision to Long Island in the 1949-50 season opener.
*A&M has won 37 straight regular-season non-conference home games. Overall, the Aggies have won 26 of their last 27 home games, including five straight.
*A&M posted a 43-28 (+15) rebounding edge and had 16 offensive rebounds. The Aggies had a 42-27 (+15) margin last night against Oral Roberts.
*Josh Carter scored a season-high 23 points and made 4-of-7 three-pointers. Carter has made 9-of-18 three-pointers (.500) this season.
*Joseph Jones scored a season-high 15 points.
*Dominique Kirk scored a season-high 14 points.
*DeAndre Jordan posted a career-high 12 rebounds, including six offensive boards.