COLLEGE STATION (AP) – With Texas A&M starters Khris Middleton and Dash Harris out with injuries Saturday, the Aggies had several role players step up to help get a win over Oklahoma State.
Coach Billy Kennedy wants to get similar production from those players on Wednesday against No. 6 Baylor with the status of Middleton and Harris still uncertain.
Leading that group on Saturday was senior walk-on guard Alex Baird. Baird didn’t score, but had four rebounds, three assists and a steal in 21 minutes. Before Saturday he had played just six minutes in his two-year career.
Freshman Daniel Alexander had a career-high 11 points and Zach Kinsley and Jordan Green helped out with eight points apiece to pick up the slack.
Kennedy said Middleton is likely to miss his third straight game with swelling in his right knee. But he is hopeful that Harris, the point guard who injured his right foot last Monday against Kansas, can play.
“We don’t know what the lineup will be like, we’ll evaluate it to see who gives us the best chance against Baylor,” Kennedy said. “The positive thing is all those guys have a lot more confidence than they did a couple of weeks ago. We’re going to need all that against Baylor.”
The Aggies started leading scorer Elston Turner at point guard and Green at Turner’s normal spot at shooting guard on Saturday. Kennedy thought Turner was “pushing too hard” with that lineup and soon inserted Baird to play point guard.
Everyone was impressed the performance and poise of Baird, who didn’t have a turnover, after he had played just two minutes this season before Saturday.
“We’ve always had confidence in him and have seen him play (in practice),” Turner said. “He was just waiting for his time. He finally got it and used the best of it.”
Kennedy had challenged his reserves to do more against Oklahoma State after his bench scored just six points in the loss to Kansas. They responded by combining for 25 points against the Cowboys.
“It shows you how much your bench can have impact on games,” Baird said. “If everyone goes hard in practice, including the guys who don’t start, then it’s good when the bench guys need to come in and play.”
Green, a freshman, has played regularly off the bench this season. Kennedy thinks his improvement defensively has helped him define his role on the team. He spent much of Saturday guarding Keiton Page and helped limit him to nine points.
“He’s been consistent with his effort and attitude all year,” Kennedy said. “He’s going to be a guy we can build this program around.”
Kennedy being forced to rely on players like Baird wasn’t anything new to him after a career where he’s coached at smaller schools like Centenary and Southeastern Louisiana. Still, seeing players like Baird contribute is one of the joys of his job.
“They’re not looking for how many minutes, they’re not worried about going to the NBA, they’re not worried about how many points they score,” Kennedy said. “When those guys have success, it brings a lot of purpose to what I do, and it’s very valuable and enjoyable to see.”
While A&M’s role players will certainly be important until Middleton and Harris get healthy, Turner will have to continue to lead the team. He has scored a combined 70 points in A&M’s last three games.
Turner had 21 points in A&M’s first meeting with Baylor, a 61-52 loss in the Big 12 opener Jan. 2. Kennedy believes his team was a bit intimidated early in that first game and that the Aggies have grown a lot since then.
Kennedy said part of his team’s slow development this year has been because he missed time early after being diagnosed with the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.
“I know we’ve changed,” he said. “I said in the beginning when I came back this team would be better later than earlier because of what we’ve been through — injuries, me missing a few weeks and just the things that happened to us that we couldn’t control that put us behind. Now I think we’re catching up to where we need to be.”
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