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No. 17 Texas A&M holds off Florida

By The Sports Xchange   |   March 12, 2016 at 1:26 AM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Texas A&M's ability to get contributions from a number of players was the reason for sharing the Southeastern Conference's regular-season title, and it was a reason the No. 17 Aggies beat Florida 72-66 in an SEC tournament quarterfinal game at Bridgestone Arena on Friday afternoon.

Freshmen center Tyler Davis scored 15 points, had three blocks and pulled down eight rebounds, and guard Alex Caruso made several big plays down the stretch as A&M survived a poor shooting day due to a 12-7 edge on turnovers.

It was a true team effort for the Aggies (25-7), who survived a combined 11-of-35 shooting performance from guard Danuel House and forward Jalen Jones, the team's two leading scorers.

"Just thankful to get a win," Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "It was a good team win. It was an ugly game. I didn't think we played well offensively, but we gutted it out. I was really proud of our bench."

House, despite his slump, hit the biggest shot of the game, connecting on a deep 3 from the right side off a feed from Caruso, putting the Aggies up 68-62 with 59.1 seconds left.

"I still felt confident," House said. "My teammates and coach Kennedy and the other staff believed in me, and they kept telling me every shot I took was a good shot. Just keep shooting, don't worry about it. Let's just focus on getting stops. So that was the key."

Moments earlier, Caruso had picked up an open-court steal and converted a lay-up at the other end for a 65-61 lead.

Florida (19-14) hung with the tournament's top seed all day, thanks to tough interior defense and the play of guard Kasey Hill (18 points, two assists, two steals). Dorian Finney-Smith (11 points, nine rebounds) was one of four other double-figure scorers for the Gators.

But a 38.7 percent shooting day, hampered by a 3-of-19 showing behind the 3-point arc, was a killer.

"Overall, I thought our effort defensively was very good," Florida coach Mike White said. "We fought. It's two days in a row we sat in the stance and really grinded out some stops at a pretty high level. We just defended a really good Texas A&M team pretty well, just not quite well enough to overcome some shooting woes."

The Aggies took a 34-32 lead at the break after a closely contested first half. A&M wasn't efficient from the field (35.9 percent) but had 10 more attempts than the Gators thanks to a 7-3 edge in turnovers and a 9-5 edge in offensive rebounds.

A&M guard Alex Collins exited around the five-minute mark in the first half with an apparent knee injury, but he returned in the second half. Collins had been taken out of the season-ending Vanderbilt game with an injury as well.

"You know, I thought he was 100 percent coming in, and so he had a sprained neck or something from getting hit last week," Kennedy said. "He went down pretty good. His leg -- I'll really know more after the game. But he wasn't as aggressive in getting the ball in the paint, but defensively, he was able to get out on the floor and help us."

Despite playing a tough schedule -- 19th-toughest in the country, according to CBS Sports' RPI figures coming into Friday -- the Gators lacked big wins, and more than likely needed to knock off the Aggies to get serious consideration for the NCAA Tournament.

Afterwards, White was asked indirectly about the postseason.

"I'm not going to go there with what happens next," White said. "I don't know. I think that our administration has done a great job with putting together what the committee wants to see, and that's a high-level schedule. In addition, we played a grueling SEC schedule in a grueling league."

NOTES: Texas A&M won the previous game by a 71-68 score in College Station. It's the first time the two teams have met in the SEC tournament. ... Aggies C Tyler Davis has now scored in double-figures in six of his last seven games. ... Gators C John Egbunu tore thumb ligaments earlier in the week, which was thought to put his status in jeopardy for the tournament. Instead, Egbunu played 24 minutes Thursday and 21 minutes Friday, coming off the bench both games after starting 29 of the team's first 31 games. He scored 11 points and had six rebounds in 21 minutes.

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