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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — No. 8 Texas A&M has a goal of driving three hours in late March to play in the Final Four in San Antonio.
The Aggies found out Tuesday night they will need star defenders Admon Gilder and Robert Williams nearly every step of the way to achieve that lofty objective.
Senior guard Duane Wilson scored 16 points and A&M escaped with a 64-58 victory over Northern Kentucky, minus Gilder and Williams and two more role players.
The game was tied 44-44 with less than 8 minutes remaining, before A&M (10-1) scored the next five points on transition baskets by Savion Flagg and Wilson and a free throw from Tonny Trocha-Morelos. A&M held on the rest of the way in a too-close-for-comfort contest.
"Defensively they're about as good as we've played against this year," A&M coach Billy Kennedy said of the Norse. "We found a way to win. It's been a crazy week with the injuries."
The Aggies played without Gilder (knee), a junior guard who isn't expected to return until early in Southeastern Conference play in January. Williams (concussion), a sophomore, and fellow forward Isiah Jasey (concussion) and guard T.J. Starks (leg tightness) also didn't play with lesser injuries.
All three are expected back soon, although Williams missed his second consecutive game. Kennedy said Williams, the reigning SEC defender of the year, should return to practice on Wednesday and play against Buffalo on Thursday night.
Both teams were awful from long range in making a combined 9 of 48 3-point attempts, with the Aggies (2 of 20 for 10 percent) worse than the Norse (7 of 28 for 25 percent).
"We've got to keep shooting," Wilson insisted. "Those are shots we work on every day. It was just an off night."
Tyler Davis added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Aggies. Drew McDonald led the Norse (7-5) with 16 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Despite the close game and overall poor shooting by the Aggies (37 percent from the field), Northern Kentucky coach John Brannen still predicted big things for the top 10 team in the months ahead.
"It's going to be fun watching them moving forward," Brannen said. "Their length and athleticism really reminds me of some of the Kentucky teams. Their discipline and execution and sticking to who they are also is really impressive."
Texas A&M: The Aggies received a heavy dose of realism in terms of how important Williams and Gilder are to their fortunes, especially on the defensive end. Simply, A&M will need the duo healthy if it hopes to even make the NCAA Tournament, much less the nearby Final Four.
NKU: The Norse lost their second consecutive game, but will be buoyed by playing the nation's No. 8 team so tight on the Aggies' home court. After playing its last two nonconference games on the road, NKU has a chance at a strong start in the Horizon League with its first two games at home.
A&M guard D.J. Hogg managed an acrobatic steal as he was falling out of bounds with 49 seconds remaining and the Aggies holding a four-point lead against the upset-minded Norse.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
On an evening when the Aggies needed him most with Gilder and Williams out of the lineup, Flagg turned in his first career double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds).
"Anything I need to do to help my team get a win, I'm willing to do it," the freshman said.
HE SAID IT
"It was a terrible pass. It makes me question him taking the ball out now."
A&M coach Billy Kennedy on D.J. Hogg throwing a nearly length-of-the-court inbounds pass to Tyler Davis with 29 seconds remaining and the Aggies clutching a four-point lead. Fortunately for A&M and especially Hogg, Davis came up with the ball and dunked it.
Texas A&M: The Aggies play the last of four consecutive home games on Thursday night when they play host to Buffalo. A&M has won the three previous games against Prairie View A&M, Savannah State and NKU by a combined 73 points in what figures to be its easiest stretch of the season, even if Tuesday night's game was closer than anticipated.
NKU: The Norse wrapped up their nonconference schedule with two straight losses by a combined seven points, and will open Horizon League play on Dec. 28 at home against IUPUI.
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