Mark Turgeon, Texas A&M Turning Heads
The Aggies fourth-year coach had every reason to feel good about the direction of his 13-ranked team that came back from a big deficit, took a nice lead only to lose it in the second half and then somehow came away with a thrilling 91-89 overtime win over No.12 Missouri on Saturday afternoon at Reed Arena. Heck, Turgeon even called it a hugger, describing the emotion of the post-game locker room.
But the coach in him wouldn't allow Turgeon to enjoy this one for long, even if it extended his team's winning streak to 13 straight and moved their record to 16-1, 3-0 (Big 12) for the program's best start since the 1919-20 season. The 11,005 in Reed Arena hadn't completely cleared out and Turgeon was already looking ahead and dreading what is on the horizon.
"We still have so much ahead of us," Turgeon said to FanHouse as he stood alone at the entrance of his team's practice facility Saturday afternoon. "We are going to get a ton of attention this week. I don't know if we are going to move into the Top 10 or not. I don't like it. I just want to work and get better. We have a hell of a week. We have K-State and Texas. Are you kidding me? K-State's backs are against the wall."
From the sounds of their coach, the Aggies are in a corner, too.
But if you know Turgeon then you understand that's just his way of pinching himself and keeping it all in perspective. He lives for the moments to prove the doubters wrong. For Turgeon, his biggest detractors are the ones who thought A&M and athletic director Bill Byrne were nuts when they tabbed the no-thrills Wichita State coach and Larry Brown disciple to replace the wildly successful Billy Gillispie.
Turgeon, who is playing with all of his own kids for the first time, is showing them.
The interesting thing is this season's Aggies may have more of their coach in them than they realize. A&M, a team of virtual no-name players, has gone from being a non-factor in the Big 12 race this season to possibly the second best team behind Kansas. The Aggies have also risen from the ranks of not even receiving votes in the Top 25 to begin the season to realistically breaking into the Top 10 on Monday.
The Aggies, who haven't lost since falling to Boston College in the Old Spice Tournament on Nov. 25, have not only caught the country by surprise but their coach, as well.
"There is no way I thought we'd be here. No way," said Turgeon. "I was fighting these guys in practice. Our practices were horrible. They would give me something one day and nothing the next. I was exhausted Thanksgiving weekend.
"When we lost to Boston College I was like, 'Are we going to win another game? These guys are a pain in the rear. I can't coach these guys.' But the Boston College game made it easier for me to coach them."
Finally Turgeon had their attention. They listened closer and practiced harder.
That isn't to suggest there have not been challenges because there have been. There was the overtime win against Arkansas last month. And then Saturday, it looked at times like the winning stretch was going to end at 12 and reality was about to set in.
But what Turgeon isn't willing to admit just yet is this could very well be his best collective team since arriving in College Station. Sophomore forward Khris Middleton looks like he will eventually be the playmaker, but in the meantime the Aggies can rely on timely contributions from a handful of players that include David Loueau, Nathan Walkup, B.J. Holmes, Dash Harris and Ray Turner.
They all had their moments Saturday, though it will be remembered for the overtime period when Middleton went off, scoring 11 of the Aggies' 14 points in the extra period. But Holmes may have quietly made the play of the game when he knocked the ball out of the hands of Mizzou freshman guard Phil Pressey on the way to the basket with 36 seconds left in overtime. Middleton came up with the steal and coasted the other way for the go-ahead layup that gave the Aggies the 88-87 advantage and the lead for good.
"I definitely like my group of guys," Turgeon said. "But it's still so early."