Texas A&M revived

With just two minutes left and the Aggies clinging to a five point lead, freshman forward Antoine Wright drove baselane an unleashed a gravity-defying slam to give Texas A&M a 60-53 lead.

The backboard-rattling tomahawk – and not Bobby Knight's 800th win – was the topic of campus buzz the following day as the Aggies stunned the Red Raiders, 64-59, on Feb. 1.

"I almost ran off the court because it felt like the game was over," teammate Bernard King said of the dunk.

Wright, in his first season as an Aggie, has been a large part of Texas A&M's rise back into respectability, something fans have been waiting for more than 15 years.

The last time the Aggies' ventured to the NCAA tournament came in 1987, when Duke quickly and efficiently disposed of them in the opening round. Any optimism of returning to the tournament quickly took a nosedive in the subsequent years.

Three seasons later, the program was marred in controversy as then-coach Kermit Davis violated NCAA rules and was pressured to resign. The NCAA's Committee of Infractions ruled that nine violations had occurred and reduced A&M's scholarships and put the school on five years of probation.

The following year, players and coaches were poisoned by a carbon monoxide leak at Baylor University's Ferrell Center. Several collapsed in the locker room and nine people were airlifted to a nearby hospital to receive treatment in a hyperbolic decompression chamber.

The program, clearly in disarray, looked to coach Melvin Watkins to pick up the pieces. If omens were a sign, Watkins was helpless. He was introduced on April Fools' Day in 1998 and his coaching debut came on Friday, Nov. 13.

The Aggies struggled for Watkins' first four years, compiling a 39-77 record. But Watkins struck gold when he signed Wright, a No. 4 overall prospect according to ESPN. Wright has emerged as a force this year, averaging 16.7 points and 7.6 rebounds, complementing King (16.9 ppg), who in year's past was the team's only proven scoring threat.

"If they try to shut me down, I just give it to Antoine and let him score," King, a senior, said. "When they try to shut him down, he gives it right back to me."

That formula proved successful as the Aggies jumped out to a 9-4 record and had some believing that an NCAA tournament bid was in the mix. "We are still building and this team has a lot of potential," Watkins said. "You want your players to have that mentality."

Since then, A&M has gone 2-4, including a 95-87 loss to Texas on Saturday. But nothing can take the shine off a plus .500 record after going 9-22 last year.

"This is the first time we've actually had a chance to compete in the Big 12," King said. The Aggies have eight games left before the Big 12 tournament to make a case for the postseason with games against Missouri, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. None of these teams worry Wright, who believes A&M's success this year won't be a fluke.

"We have the team, we have the players to do it this year," Wright said. "If we don't win, it's on us."

Surviving Seven

Nineteen players were ejected after a bench-clearing brawl that overshadowed Eastern Kentucky's 89-72 win against Tennessee State on Monday. Both teams finished with seven players combined.

The fight started with 8:13 left and Eastern ahead, 72-58. Eastern's Shawn Fields took a hard foul from Tennessee State's Cedric Bryson, which caused both benches to empty to the floor.

"It was just complete chaos," Eastern Kentucky coach Travis Ford said to the Associated Press. "Nobody really knows what happened."

Fraudulent Papers
Former Fresno State men's basketball players had academic course work written for them, according to a published report.

The Fresno Bee said the team statistician wrote player's term papers and was paid by a Las Vegas agent. This allegedly occurred during the Jerry Tarkanian coaching era and involved at least three former players and former academic adviser Katie Felten, according to the Bee.

In 37 years of coaching, I've never had a case of academic fraud," Tarkanian said to the AP. "I can't believe what you are saying is accurate. We have always taken academics very seriously."

Up and coming
Southern Illinois. If you don't remember, this was the same team that marched to the Sweet 16 last year after upsetting Texas Tech and then Georgia. The Salukis have won 11 of 12 and are poised at making another NCAA tournament run.

He said what?
''We saw a little crack of a smile. We usually don't see him smile, so that must mean he's pretty happy.''

Utah guard Marc Jackson after Rick Majerus won 400th game as a coach. The Utes topped Wyoming 69-56 on Monday.

This and that
John "Whack'' Hyder, second all time in wins at Georgia Tech, died Feb. 9. He was 90. … High school star David Padgett is over. Padgett, who will attended Kansas next year, suffered a severe patellar tendon strain in his right knee Saturday as he grabbed a rebound in Reno's 59-57 overtime loss to Carson High. … Texas ended its eight-game losing streak against Oklahoma, with a 67-61 win on Monday night.

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