FORT WORTH — This fall, Fort Worth opened a new palace of sport and music worthy of a king. After all, George Strait played two concerts in the venue to celebrate its advent.
The renewal of the Texas A&M-Texas men’s basketball rivalry Sunday didn’t match the grandiose setting as the Longhorns won a sloppy affair 60-50 in the brand-new Dickies Arena.
The Aggies (3-5) turned the ball over 21 times in the loss, which saw both teams shoot under 40% in a 27-17 first half. A&M ended the game shooting 48% from the field but only hit 3 of 11 shots from behind the arc and 7 of 13 from the charity stripe.
“I don’t think me or this team will win a beauty contest,” A&M head coach Buzz Williams said with a chuckle. “But I don’t know that as long as I’m here we’ll win a beauty contest because they’re not going to invite me.”
As A&M struggled to make shots in bunches with any consistency, it was A&M’s defense that kept the Aggies in the contest. Williams alternated between his traditional “cover two” man-to-man defense and a 1-2-2 zone, which found some traction against the Longhorns (8-1).
The move was partially a matchup decision against the Longhorns as well as implementing a different look, Williams said.
“He’s done a terrific job in a short time instilling a defensive pride, defensive toughness and defensive energy,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “They do a really good job of slowing the game down right now.”
A&M limited the Longhorns to 37% from the field in the first half, but allowed four 3-pointers. Texas finished with nine from behind the arc.
The lone picture perfect piece of A&M’s offense were a pair of two-handed dunks in traffic from Josh Nebo, which brought the 12th Man occasionally back into the game. Nebo finished with a season-high 16 points to pace the Aggies.
“I thought today, obviously, his production was the best its been,” Williams said. “I thought, from that position, it was the best production we’ve had — he and [Jonathan] Aku.”
The pair of posts combined to hit 9 of 12 shots from the field. Freshman forward Emanuel Miller added a season-high 14 rebounds to Sunday’s effort.
However, 22 of Texas’s 60 points came off A&M turnovers, a margin too steep to overcome. The Longhorns got 17 points from guard Jase Febres, who led all scorers.
In some consolation, the 12th Man who made the trek to Fort Worth received the rare opportunity to “Saw Varsity’s horns off” with Varsity actually in attendance. Swaying Aggies intermingled with burnt orange for just the third time during a basketball game since A&M bolted from the Big 12 in 2012.
The neutral-site contest has been in the works for several years, Smart said, but there still hasn’t been ground reached on starting a home-and-home series between the rival schools. Williams said he is in favor of playing Texas every season, but complications make the feat a challenge.
“I think it’s good,” Williams said. “I think schedule is a little more complicated … relative to the national invitational tournaments, relative to the Big 12/SEC Challenge, which is during conference play. There are a lot of different factors involved — winter finals and all those things.”
Smart echoed his willingness to play the game but also cited complications of putting the series together.
“It is not something that I’m against,” Smart said. “It’s definitely something that we can talk about, if that’s what Coach Williams wants to do.”
Despite the loss, Aggie basketball players said their student-athlete experience had not been complete before playing the university’s oldest rival.
“I definitely feel like we’ve missed out,” Nebo said. “It’s something as players you want to play against Texas. The fans want to see that. I feel like it’s definitely good for both schools, good for the state and a good college basketball game.”