COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M’s players traded encouraging words a few weeks ago, out of necessity.
“We were just letting each other know it’s not over,” A&M forward Robert Williams said of what was beginning to look like a lost season.
They’ve since proven it’s certainly not, after the Aggies won their fourth consecutive Southeastern Conference game on Saturday night to climb back to .500 against league opponents.
Freshman point guard T.J. Starks scored 17 points and A&M toppled No. 24 Kentucky 85-74 on Saturday night in a sold-out and raucous Reed Arena.
“Now we’re sitting at 6-6, but we still have a hole to dig out of,” said A&M junior guard D.J. Hogg, who added 16 points as all five starters scored in double figures.
John Calipari has lost three consecutive games for the first time since taking over the Kentucky program before the 2009-2010 season.
Kentucky (17-8, 6-6 Southeastern Conference) led 30-26 at halftime, but the Aggies (17-8, 6-6) made 11 of their first 16 shots in the second half — including all four of their 3-point attempts — to take a 14-point lead.
“Making shots always refuels your defense,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led Kentucky with 19 points. The Aggies dominated the Wildcats in fast-break points (18-10), and A&M’s high-flying Williams had four of the team’s six blocks.
The Aggies started 0-5 in SEC play primarily because of injuries and suspensions. They’re mostly healthy now and the suspensions appear to be in the past.
“What Billy Kennedy has done after the injuries and the other stuff, to have this win streak, that’s what coaching is,” said Calipari, who led Kentucky to a national title in 2012. “My hat is off to Billy. He’s a good man and a heck of a coach.”
The Aggies, in snapping a four-game losing streak to the Wildcats, avenged a 74-73 loss at Kentucky on Jan. 9 that was the fourth of those first five losses for A&M in SEC play.
“We said we had lost too many close games,” Williams said. “That we were going to fight through this.”
Kentucky: Kentucky hasn’t yet hit the panic button this season — but perhaps it’s time for a tap. Calipari is still trying to figure out a rotation with five regular-season games remaining.
Texas A&M: The Aggies are looking much like the team that started 11-1 prior to SEC play, and that should startle the rest of the league. When big men Robert Williams and Tyler Davis are clicking as they did on Saturday night, the Aggies are tough to beat.
The Aggies banked two 3-pointers off the backboard during their early run in the second half, one by Admon Gilder and one by Tonny Trocha-Morelos to the crowd’s delight.
The Aggies, once fifth nationally leading into SEC play, might climb back into the top 25 with two wins over ranked opponents this week (including at No. 8 Auburn on Wednesday night). The No. 24 Wildcats are likely to drop out after their third consecutive loss.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
The Aggies’ 59 points in the second half were their most in a half this season in SEC play.
HEISMAN IN THE HOUSE
Johnny Manziel, A&M’s 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, made a rare appearance in College Station, and sat along the baseline with friends.
HE SAID IT
“I needed four more time outs to stem the tide. I could have called a time out every two minutes.” — Calipari on A&M’s second-half surge.
Kentucky: At Auburn on Wednesday night.
Texas A&M: At Missouri on Tuesday night.